US, Georgia sign military training pact against Russian Black Sea threat

TBLISI, Georgia US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Georgian counterpart on Monday signed an agreement to extend US-led military training for the besieged Black Sea ally as part of the secretary’s trip to the region to reaffirm support for the Eastern allies on the front lines of Russian aggression.

The action took place on the first leg of Austin’s voyage, before visits to other Black Sea allies, Ukraine and Romania, to deliver a message of “unwavering” support for their sovereignty and to their territorial integrity in the face of Russian threats. Since Russia’s war with Georgia, it has a 13-year grip on the breakaway territories of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Austin denounced on Monday.

“One point on which I would like to be clear is that the United States condemns Russia’s continued occupation of Georgia and its attempts to expand its influence in the Black Sea region through military coercion and d ‘malicious activity,’ Austin said alongside Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. “It is an important region, and its security and stability are crucial to fully realize a vision we share of a whole, free and peaceful Europe.

Georgia and Ukraine are NATO candidate countries and Romania is a member. Amid the presence of Russian troops, NATO did not agree to advance Georgia’s membership, and the West also pressured Georgia to fight corruption and reverse its democratic retreat.

Austin responded to a question about Georgia’s reform efforts during a press conference at the Georgian Defense Ministry with Georgian Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze.

“The United States has always been a strong supporter of democratic development and Georgia’s independence, and we are constantly seeking to strengthen its democratic institutions,” said Austin. “Our embassy noted some problems with the recent elections, but we also expressed our confidence in Georgia’s ability to improve.

The U.S. military, Marine Corps and special operations forces trained Georgian infantry troops to resist Russian aggression on their territory, but its three-year term was due to end in December. The follow-up program unveiled on Monday aims to make bureaucratic reforms, but would also teach Georgian maneuver brigades to integrate fires and include engineering capabilities for the first time.

“We are at a new level of collaboration and cooperation with the United States, which, to the extent possible, secures both Georgia’s defense and deterrence capabilities,” Burchuladze said.

Austin’s visits to the region follow a summer in which the US Navy participated in live-fire exercises on the Black Sea, where Russian warships were a constant presence. Russian Black Sea Fleet started his own exercise last month, firing its Bastion mobile anti-ship and ground-to-ground defense system at targets off the coast of Crimea, which it annexed to Ukraine in 2014.

The Black Sea region has strategic value for Moscow as a corridor for energy, telecommunications and transit to the Mediterranean, and high-level visits are sure to make Moscow uncomfortable, said Ben Hodges, former commander of US Army forces in Europe.

“The last thing the Kremlin wants is a big western investment in Georgia,” Hodges said. “So the fact that the United States Secretary of Defense is visiting three Black Sea countries is an important signal of United States interests in the region, and we should be working hard on a strategy for the sea region. Black. “

The trip, which will end at NATO’s defense ministerial meeting in Brussels, is its first in Europe since the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan. European allies criticized the US departure, and Russian officials used it to claim America would abandon its Ukrainian allies.

Austin thanked Georgia for its participation in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Georgia lost 32 troops and was one of the major non-NATO contributors to the NATO-led mission.

It was the first visit by a US Secretary of Defense since Chuck Hagel’s visit in 2014.

The weapons were not part of Monday’s announcement, but in August, the Biden administration approved a potential foreign military sale to Georgia for as much as $ 30 million worth of anti-tank missiles and Javelin launchers. The 46 launchers and 82 missiles, manufactured by a Raytheon Technologies-Lockheed Martin joint venture, would come from US military stocks, according to the announcement.

It is unclear how this week’s NATO meeting will approach Georgia and Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Washington earlier this month “that there is a lot between nothing and full membership” and that he hopes “that we can make some decisions. ambitious at the next NATO summit ”, scheduled for Madrid next year.

Austin will also meet with Ukrainian officials in Kiev this week to discuss institutional reforms and further show his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war.

This summer, President Joe Biden pledged an additional $ 60 million in military aid, which includes more Javelin anti-tank missiles. The United States has globally committed over $ 400 million in military aid this year, and Austin is not expected to announce more this week.

Austin will also visit NATO headquarters in Brussels for the first face-to-face meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers since the COVID-19 pandemic. The alliance is grappling with criticism that the United States did not consult its allies prior to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

However, Austin is likely to focus on China, which he has called the Pentagon’s main stimulus threat, as well as international cooperation to fight ISIS around the world.

“The secretary intends to spend a lot of time listening to the views of the Allies on where they see our [counter-ISIS] operations underway, both in Iraq and Syria, but also in view of the broader threat of ISIS in the world, ”said a senior administration official.

With an Associated Press report.

Joe Gould is the Congressional and Industry reporter for Defense News, covering budget and defense policy issues on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.


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