Rice is expected to press for Nato members to curtail high level meetings and military co-operation with Russia unless Moscow sticks to its pledge to withdraw troops from Georgia.

"We are going to send the message that we are not going to allow Russia to draw a new line at those states that are not yet integrated into the transatlantic structures like Georgia and Ukraine.

"We are determined to deny them their strategic objective."

Consolidating positions

Russia promised to start withdrawing forces on Monday back to positions in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia province in line with a peace deal brokered last week by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president.

Map

 

Key locations in the conflict

And the deputy chief of staff of Russia's army said on Monday that the withdrawal had begun.

But reports from Georgia said Russian troops remained well inside Georgian territory and appeared instead to be consolidating their hold on parts of Georgian territory.

Russian forces were concentrated in the town Gori and were also roaming the western town of Senaki, where they have occupied a Georgian military base.

Witnesses also reported Russian patrols in the port city of Poti, which has been repeatedly raided and there were also Russian forces in and around the town of Zugdidi, near the border with Abkhazia.

Rice has accused Moscow of using "disproportionate force" against its neighbour, whose hopes to joining Nato have angered Russia.

The US secretary of state is scheduled to travel to Warsaw later on Tuesday where she is to sign a deal on installing a missile defence shield pact with Poland - a move certain to further increase tensions with Russia.

US diplomats denied Russian claims that Washington wants to break up the Nato-Russian Council which was set up in 2002 to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.

Alliance unity

But a senior US official said on Monday that the alliance would have to rethink a range of planned activities - from a meeting with Russia's defence minister foreseen in October, to regular military consultations in areas such as counterterrorism, managing air space or rescue at sea.

Rice is expected to push Nato to affirm its commitment to Georgia [AFP]
Some Nato officials said that approach was very likely to win support at Tuesday's emergency meeting, despite wariness among some European allies about further damaging relations with Moscow.

Despite one senior US official's assurance that "you'll see a Nato more united than you might expect", however, some diplomatic sources said the subject of Russia's role in Georgia had split Nato members.

Britain, Canada, the US and most Eastern European member states are in one camp seeking a tough stance on Russia's actions, the sources said.

But most of Western Europe, led by France and Germany and backed by Hungary and Slovenia among others, were more cautious of further hurting ties with Moscow.

Russian warning

Russia's ambassador to Nato warned that what he described as an anti-Russian propaganda campaign could jeopardise "the quality of co-operation" and that ties between Moscow and the alliance would suffer if the Nato foreign ministers failed to reach a "responsible decision".

"We hope that tomorrow's decisions by Nato will be balanced and that responsible forces in the West will give up the total cynicism that has been so evident [which] is pushing us back to the Cold War era,'' Dmitry Rogozin told reporters on Monday.

"We don't want to hear that [Mikheil] Saakashvili is a saint," he added, comparing the Georgian president's actions in the breakaway province of South Ossetia to the worst excesses of Hitler and Stalin.

The Nato meeting will also discuss support for a planned international monitoring mission in the region and a package of support to help Georgia rebuild infrastructure damaged in the conflict with Russia.

The ministers are also expected to restate Nato's firm opposition to the separatist ambitions of Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Saakashvili has accused Nato leaders of encouraging Russia's move into Georgian territory by postponing a decision in April to put Georgia and Ukraine on a fast track to Nato membership.

The alliance had held off because Germany and France were wary of Russian opposition to the move, since Russia is Europe's main energy supplier.

But on a visit on Sunday to the beleaguered Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, repeated Western promises that Georgia will eventually join Nato.