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The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed Wednesday that it has “postponed” an upcoming bilateral training exercise with the United States, citing the “undefined status of foreign military forces” on its soil.

Set to start later this month, the two-week exercise, called Torgau 2006, “will have to take place as soon as a related agreement comes into force after ratification by PfP (Partnership for Peace) nations,” the ministry said in a press statement. There was no mention of when the issue may be resolved or of a possible future date for the joint exercise, the third in a series that began in 2004.

A U.S. Embassy official in Moscow said Wednesday that the Duma, Russia’s legislative body, was still debating the issue. But the official referred to the delay as only a “hiccup.”

“The Russians decided to postpone it,” the official said. “We know it will be possible to conduct the exercise” once legislators work things out.

However, several published news reports attributed the postponement to a growing rift between Washington and Moscow, something the U.S. Embassy official rejected. In particular, observers noted recent anti-NATO demonstrations in the Crimea and protests by Communist Party officials over the Torgau event.

“If the relationship was deteriorating,” the official said, “would there be all this cooperation in these other areas?”

Next week, for example, U.S. military officials, their Russian counterparts and other agencies from the two nations will participate in a two-day symposium on AIDS in the military.

In April 2005, Russia and NATO officials formally signed a status of forces agreement, which spells out rules governing the movement, training and overall presence of foreign soldiers in a particular country. At the time of the signing, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the agreement wouldn’t take effect until the Russian parliament ratified it.

“We don’t expect any trouble” receiving parliament’s approval, Appathurai said at the time of the 2005 signing. “ … There remain some more technical steps to follow, but this will happen very, very quickly and it will certainly not hold up any cooperation that we’re doing now.”

A month later, in the absence of the agreement’s ratification, U.S. and Russian forces still conducted Torgau 2005. About 275 troops took part in joint maneuvers at a base near Moscow.

The U.S. military spent months preparing for this year’s exercise, set to take place from Sept. 23 to Oct. 4 at the Mulino Training Area in Nizhny Novgorod, a region of central Russia about 250 miles east of Moscow. Plans call for a variety of activities, from live fire and field training to a computer-assisted command post drill, according to Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for U.S. Army Europe.

About 220 U.S. troops from Germany were to participate, including the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 5th Signal Command, 21st Theater Support Command, 1st Armored Division and members of the USAREUR staff.

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