Medvedev dubs NATO Georgia exercise "muscle-flexing"

Medvedev dubs NATO Georgia exercise "muscle-flexing"Moscow  - Russian President Dmitri Medvedev criticized a planned NATO military exercise in Georgia next month as "muscle- flexing" on Friday, according to Interfax news agency, as tensions from last summer's conflict hotted up again.

The NATO operation is expected to see 1,300 soldiers from 19 nations carry out a two-day exercise in the Black Sea republic.

Georgia and Russia went to war last August over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia, part of Georgia but which Moscow has unilaterally recognised as an independent territory.

On Friday Medvedev, making his first comments on the row, called the NATO plan "wrong and dangerous."

"We will closely monitor (the situation) and take the necessary decisions," the Kremlin chief added.

NATO has warned that the exercises are long-planned and will go ahead anyway.

On Thursday the Russian ambassador to NATO called the planned manoeuvres a "provocation."

"At a time when this or that military bloc is conducting an exercise there where just recently there was a very high degree of tension - and the situation there is not a very easy one today - all this is fraught with all sorts of complications," Medvedev added

There are a total of around 7,000 Russian soldiers stationed around the two disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

NATO has stressed that not only were the planned before last year's war, but are a joint exercise of NATO and the Partnership for Peace (PFP). The US and Britain will be participating, but Germany and France will not.

On Thursday a NATO spokesman in Brussels insisted: "Everybody has been fully informed (of the exercise). There are no surprise."

He blamed Russia's initial reaction on a possible "misunderstanding."

The Partnership for Peace exercise would involve "a bit of firing at a tactical level", but no tanks, NATO officials told dpa.

Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian ambassador to NATO, had called the NATO operation an "interference in the internal workings" of Georgia.

Tens of thousands of Georgians spent Easter weekend calling for the resignation of the pro-Western Saakashvili, blaming him for last year's war with Russia.

Russia's invasion of Georgia in August severely strained relations between Moscow and the West.

However, NATO leaders agreed at a summit in France and Germany on April 3-4 to resume meetings of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), a forum for direct dialogue between the sides. (dpa)