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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Prods Russia on Rebel Regions

ReutersActivists with the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Russia protesting NATO outside the U.S. Embassy on Saturday.
NATO reached out to Russia at its summit Saturday, saying it wanted to work together against threats such as piracy and terrorism. But the alliance's insistence that Russia pull its troops from the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia risks meeting Kremlin resistance.

NATO leaders, meeting on the French-German border, also chose Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the alliance's new chief, throwing another potential wrench into a complicated relationship because he is little-loved in Russia.

"There is a shared view in NATO that we must cooperate with Russia," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said at the close of the summit. "We think this relationship can deliver more than it has up to now."

NATO leaders said they were ready to resume ministerial level meetings with Russia in the coming months, and hoped to work with Russia on fighting threats including piracy and terrorism.

Georgia remains a hindrance to closer NATO-Russia ties. Russia has staunchly opposed NATO granting membership to Georgia and Ukraine. And a war between Russia and Georgia over the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia poisoned relations with the West for months.

NATO leaders pressed Russia to "immediately fulfill engagements it made toward Georgia" under an EU-brokered cease-fire ending the war -- saying a pullout of Russian troops from the regions is "essential."

"The buildup of Russia's military presence in the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia without the consent of the government of Georgia is of particular concern," NATO said in a statement.

NATO also wants Russia to reverse its decision to recognize the regions as independent countries.

A Kremlin official, who declined to give his name because he is not authorized to speak on the subject, said any renouncement of the recognition is out of the question.

"NATO is trying to sit on two chairs [because] they consider the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia unacceptable and also consider Russia's actions in the South Caucasus last August unacceptable," Russia's NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy radio Saturday. "Well, we consider the position NATO took last August, when it unequivocally sided with [Georgia's] bandit attack on South Ossetia, unacceptable."

NATO's decision to name the Danish prime minister as its new secretary general was also expected to raise Russian hackles. "He is not exactly sugar, but then we didn't expect sugar from NATO," Rogozin said by telephone from Brussels. "His position toward Russia is not the most complimentary."

Denmark's relations with Russia were damaged by its refusal both to extradite a Chechen rebel envoy, Akhmed Zakayev, in 2002 and to cancel a Copenhagen conference that year of rebels and rights activists. Vladimir Putin, who was president at the time, responded by canceling a scheduled trip to Copenhagen for a summit with the European Union.