Tuesday, July 14, 2009
A US warship arrived in Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi Tuesday for the first joint exercises between the two countries since the former Soviet republic's war with giant neighbour Russia. Georgian coastguard personnel and locals welcomed the USS Stout crew at the Batumi pier at a ceremony including traditional Georgian folk dances, an news correspondent reported. The joint exercises with the Georgian coastguard were to begin on Wednesday. While the exercises are with the coastguard -- part of the interior ministry and not the Georgian military -- the manoeuvres risk further inflaming resurgent tensions with Russia. US warships made frequent calls to Batumi in the aftermath of the August war with Russia but this the first time since then that the United States and the small pro-Western state have held a joint exercise. Russia has repeatedly questioned the need for such port calls, questioning Washington's motives for sending battleships into the Black Sea.
A Georgian policeman stands by the USS StoutGeorgian officials said that the exercises would involve fire-fighting practice and similar moves but emphasized there would no firing. "US Navy regular visits to the Black Sea demonstrate the US commitment to Black Sea regional stability and maritime security," the US embassy to Georgia said in a statement. USS Stout Commander Marc Oberley told journalists: "This visit and the combined training demonstrate US and Georgian commitment to work together, to cooperate and maintain a maritime security." The exercises "will develop all the participants' ability to operate with each other and ensure a safe maritime environment," he added. Georgia and Russia remain at loggerheads over Moscow's recognition last year of its breakaway regions as independent and tensions have increased over the last weeks as Russia held war games close to Georgia. On Monday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili slammed a visit by his Russia counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia as "one of the most shameful pages in Russia's history".