US warship off Georgia draws Russian response
BATUMI, Georgia - A week after a Moscow summit intended to smooth over the differences between Russia and the United States, both countries yesterday engaged in displays of military might near Russia’s southern border.
A US warship anchored off the Black Sea coast of Georgia in preparation for joint naval maneuvers with the former Soviet nation, which was trounced in a war with Russia last August. Russian warplanes, meanwhile, conducted mock bombing runs in exercises just a few hundred kilometers northwest.
The maneuvers and countermaneuvers marked a stark change from July 6-7, when President Obama dined in the Kremlin with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and both countries expressed hope for repairing relations that in recent years have sunk to a post-Cold War low.
During those meetings, Obama diplomatically warned Moscow to respect the territorial integrity of Georgia and reject the notion that Moscow holds a zone of privileged interest among its former Soviet neighbors.
Georgia is still seething over what it views as Russia’s occupation of South Ossetia after the August conflict, when Russian tanks drove deep into Georgia before pulling back. Georgia had attacked South Ossetia, which has long had de facto independence, to try to retake it. Russian tanks and troops poured into the region and overwhelmed the Georgian army.
Hopes have risen in recent months that the US-Russia tensions that led up to that war would be defused under a new US administration, but recent events in and around Georgia’s mountainous lands suggest the two sides are still deeply divided.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Stout yesterday anchored off Batumi, where its commander, Mark J. Oberley, was welcomed ashore with Georgian music. “This visit and the combined training demonstrate the US and Georgian commitment to work together,’’ Oberley said.
Two vessels of the Georgian Coast Guard are to participate alongside the USS Stout in today’s drills in Georgian territorial waters between the ports of Batumi and Poti. Georgian Navy Commander Beso Shengelia said the small-scale exercises would involve averting a sinking after a hull breach, capturing a hostile boat, and joint maneuvers in conflict situations.
A couple of hours after the events in Batumi, Medvedev peered through binoculars to watch jets fly over Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiisk and fire at nonexistent ground targets. He was shown on state-controlled television station Vesti.
Georgia’s military cooperation with the United States irritates Moscow, which considers Western forays into Georgia since the war destabilizing.
Russia voiced outrage in May over NATO drills near Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, equating them to foreign interference in Georgia’s domestic affairs. Russia promptly conducted its own exercises on a much larger scale near the Georgian border earlier this month. Those exercises ended on Obama’s first day in Moscow.