NATO pulled its punches against Russia on Tuesday, suspending formal contacts as punishment for the Georgia invasion but bucking U.S. pressure for more severe penalties.
The Russian Ambassador to NATO played down the impact of the emergency meeting of the Western alliance.
"The mountain gave birth to a mouse," said Dmitry Rogozin.
Although the allies said they would not convene any more meetings of the NATO-Russia Council until Russian troops withdraw from Georgia, they bowed to concerns from Europe — which depends heavily on Russia for energy — and stopped short of adopting specific long-term steps to punish Moscow for its actions.
"There can be no business as usual with Russia under present circumstances," alliance Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after the meeting of NATO foreign ministers here.
"We are not abandoning the NATO-Russia Council, but as long as Russian forces are occupying large parts of Georgia, I cannot see the NATO-Russia Council meeting," he told reporters.
Russia, which has accused the United States of wanting to dismantle the council, asked for a meeting last week but has been rebuffed thus far.
De Hoop Scheffer said "the future will depend on concrete actions from the Russian side," but he was forced to add that "no specific decisions on programs or projects (with Russia) have been taken."
In a small victory for the United States, NATO foreign ministers did agree to show support for Georgia's pro-Western government by creating a NATO-Georgia Commission to oversee the former Soviet republic's bid to join the alliance and begin providing military training to its army.
And, they united behind a demand for Russia to fully comply with a European-mediated cease-fire and to respect Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. They also kept the door open for Tbilisi's eventual membership despite fierce Russian resistance.
However, there was no consensus for more robust expressions of backing for Georgia or displeasure with Moscow.
"There are different sensibilities on this; there are states who want this process to move faster," Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado said. "The alliance has to take united, firm position, but without being aggressive."
As limited as the NATO action was, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the alliance of "trying to make a victim of the aggressor, to absolve of guilt a criminal regime, to save a collapsed regime and is taking a course to rearm the current leaders of Georgia."
Ahead of the NATO meeting in Brussels, U.S. officials had said they were looking for tangible ways to demonstrate support for Georgia and make Russia pay for what Washington calls a "brutal invasion" of a smaller neighbor and an attempt to subvert a democratically elected government.
Yet, they were forced to scale back their plans once they realized that some European allies — particularly those who depend on Russia for energy — were wary of isolating Moscow.
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