"Until now we were deadlocked on it. Until now, it was like one country or two countries were blocking Georgia's progress [towards Nato membership]."

On Wednesday, Nato reaffirmed that Georgia, as well as Ukraine, would eventually join the alliance, but stopped short of offering them a formal roadmap towards membership.

Assistance promised

Instead the alliance agreed to deepen co-operation with the two countries, with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's secretary general, promised "further assistance" to the two countries.

"We are going to beef up the Nato-Ukraine commission, beef up the Nato-Georgia Commission. Nato will maximise, strengthen, its advice and assistance for those reform efforts," de Hoop Scheffer said.

He also insisted that Georgia and Ukraine "will one day become members, if they so wish".

To join Nato, the two countries must complete political, democratic and military reforms, as well as have good relations with their neighbours.

Georgia's relations with Russia grew more fraught in August when Russian forces moved into Georgia to repel an attempt by Georgian forces to retake South Ossetia, whose breakaway administration has long enjoyed extensive support from Moscow.

Russian forces later withdrew to within South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow has recognised as independent states, under an ensuing ceasefire deal.

Breakaway region

Eduard Kokoity, the South Ossetian leader, said in an interview on Thursday that the Moscow-backed region would have been retaken by Georgia had Russia had not intervened and "saved us" during the August war.

"The truth is that Georgia prepared well for warfare - the difference between 2004 and 2008 is like earth and sky," the South Ossetian leader told the state Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

"In 2004, we routed the Georgian army, so pitiful it was ... but in this August it was only Russia that saved us," Kokoity said, alluding to an earlier conflict.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, also hit out at Georgia on Thursday.

Speaking in a televised, public question and answer session, Putin appeared to confirm earlier French media reports that he had said Saakashvili deserved to be "hung by his balls" for starting the war.