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NATO: Russia halts military cooperation
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    BRUSSELS, Belgium — Russia has halted all military cooperation with NATO, the Western alliance said Thursday, in the latest sign of East-West tension over the invasion of Georgia.
    Alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero said NATO had received notification through military channels that Russia’s Defense Ministry had taken a decision ‘‘to halt international military cooperation events between Russia and NATO countries until further instructions.’’
    The United States immediately played down the significance of the Russian decision, saying that NATO had already effectively frozen cooperation in protest at Russia’s continued military presence in much of Georgia.
    ‘‘For all practical purposes, military-to-military cooperation had really already been ended with the Russians,’’ said U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, with vacationing President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas.
    ‘‘I can’t imagine a circumstance right now that we would engage in military cooperation with the Russians until the situation in Georgia is resolved.’’
    In a move that angered Russia, NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday said they would make further ties with Russia dependent on Moscow making good on a pledge to pull its troops back to pre-conflict positions in Georgia. But they stopped short of calling an immediate halt to all cooperation.
    Moscow has also bristled at NATO’s insistence that Georgia could one day join the alliance and by an agreement signed Wednesday allowing the United States to base anti-missile interceptors in Poland.
    The U.S. State Department called the Russian move ‘‘unfortunate.’’ Spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington ‘‘we want Russia to work with us’’ despite U.S. concerns about the Georgian invasion.
    ‘‘We still have some very important issues that we need to work with Russia on,’’ Wood said.
    Under a 2002 agreement that set up the NATO-Russia Council, the former Cold War foes began several cooperation projects. They include sharing expertise to combat heroin trafficking out of Afghanistan, developing battlefield anti-missile technology, joint exercises and help with rescue at sea.
    Romero said she was unaware of any specific events under the cooperation agreement scheduled before early September.
    NATO itself decided last week to suspend plans for a Russian warship to join NATO counterterrorism patrols in the Mediterranean Sea, deciding it was inappropriate after the outbreak of fighting in Georgia.
    Earlier Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that NATO needs Russia more than Moscow needs NATO.
    ‘‘Russia’s help is critical for NATO,’’ Lavrov said in televised comments in Moscow. Some Western analysts say, however, that Russia’s decision is more significant as a sign of worsening political relations, rather than a major blow to NATO’s military plans.
    ‘‘It’s a whole series of things that are not very important. They’ve got important sounding titles ... but reality of that (NATO-Russia) council is they look for things to talk about,’’ said Professor Michael Clarke, director of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute.
    ‘‘There’s plenty of agenda items, but there’s not much substance in them.’’
    Lavrov hinted that the freeze could have an impact on NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. Moscow signed an agreement with NATO in April authorizing the alliance to send non-lethal supplies to its troops in Afghanistan through Russian territory.
    However, NATO officials said the alliance has not started to use routes through Russia since it has yet to conclude the necessary transit arrangements with Central Asian nations lying between Russia and the Afghan border.
    In another sign of tension, Moscow has called its ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, home for consultations, a diplomat at the Russian mission at alliance headquarters said.
    Rogozin will leave Friday for ‘‘some time’’ said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give his name for attribution.
    Meanwhile, three NATO warships sailed into the Black Sea on Thursday for what the alliance said were long-planned exercises and routine visits to ports in Romania and Bulgaria not linked to the conflict in Georgia.
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    Associated Press reporters Bjoern H. Amland in Oslo, Terence Hunt in Washington, and Steve Gutterman in Moscow contributed to this report.