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Russia harshly criticizes NATO visit to Georgia

Russia issued an unusually harsh condemnation Wednesday of the NATO chief's visit to Georgia, saying it showed a Cold War mentality and would further destabilize the region.

NATO's support for Georgia after last month's war with Russia last month can only be seen as "encouraging Tbilisi to engage in new reckless ventures," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and envoys from all 26 member countries were in Georgia this week. The former Soviet republic is eager to join the Western military alliance, a step Russia strongly opposes.

On Tuesday the NATO delegation visited the central Georgian city of Gori, which was occupied by Russian troops during the war.

The Foreign Ministry said the visit to Gori sent an obvious anti-Russian message. The NATO chief would have gotten a more objective picture by visiting the capital of South Ossetia, the breakaway region at the heart of the conflict, the ministry said.

By visiting Tskhinvali, de Hoop Scheffer "could have seen the tragic consequences of the nighttime shelling of civilians by the Georgian army."

Tskhinvali came under heavy shelling from Georgia at the start of the war. Russia says it was forced to respond militarily to defend Russian citizens and peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

Decisions made during Scheffer's visit "confirmed that NATO has again shown Cold War reflexes in line with the principle of friend and foe," the ministry said.

In a strong message of support for Georgia, de Hoop Scheffer said Tuesday that its "road to NATO is still wide open."

"No other country will have a veto over that process, nor will we allow our strong ties to Georgia to be broken by outside military intervention and pressure," he said. "Georgia has a rightful place in this Europe."

Also Wednesday, Russia signed new treaties of friendship and cooperation with South Ossetia and Abkhazia - the latest effort by Moscow to deepen its economic and political ties following last month's war.

Moscow has already recognized the two regions as independent nations. Nicaragua is the other country that has recognized them.

At an elaborate signing ceremony at the Kremlin, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia's key task would be guaranteeing the two regions' security.

"A repeat of aggression from the Georgians - where revanchist attitudes unfortunately are not being hidden and the militarization of the country is continuing - would bring catastrophe to the region on a massive scale, he said.

"We will not allow new military adventurism. No one should have any illusions about this," he said.

A separate treaty on military cooperation authorizing Russian bases to be built in the regions was to be signed at a later date.