“U.S. extends security pact with Georgia as Russia tensions flare” - the Washington Post writes an article about the visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Georgia.
“Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signed a new security agreement with his Georgian counterpart on Monday, extending the U.S. effort to train allied troops amid encroaching threats from Russia.
The visit to Tbilisi opened Austin’s swing through three Black Sea nations in the run-up to this week’s meeting of defense ministers from NATO countries, their first in-person gathering in Brussels since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020.
Austin characterized his planned stops in Georgia, Ukraine and Romania as an effort to “reassure and recognize” the work each nation has devoted to NATO missions - particularly in Afghanistan. Although they are not NATO members, Georgia and Ukraine participated in the Afghan mission. This trip is also a clear response to Russian aggression in the area, which will be discussed in detail in Brussels.
“The United States condemns Russia’s ongoing occupation of Georgia and its attempts to expand influence in the Black Sea region through military coercion and malign activities”, - Austin said Monday before a meeting with the Georgian prime minister. “This is an important region, and its security and stability are crucial to fully realizing the vision that we share of a Europe that is whole and free, and at peace”.
Friction between NATO and Moscow has risen sharply in recent months. Russia has conducted low-altitude warning flights over Western vessels in the Black Sea and used its foothold in Crimea - territory it annexed from Ukraine in 2014 - to practice striking sea targets during recent NATO training exercises with the Ukrainian military.
On Monday, Russia said it would close its permanent mission to NATO in Brussels and revoke accreditations for NATO’s delegation in Moscow. Earlier this month, NATO expelled several Russian diplomats, alleging they were spies.
The tit-for-tat coincides with Moscow’s effort to capitalize on the Afghanistan war’s haphazard conclusion and press its claim that the United States is an unreliable ally.
On Monday, Georgian Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze said his country’s relationship with the United States “has never been so strong and multifaceted as it is today.” He added that the country was proud to have its troops serve “shoulder-to-shoulder” with U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was “prepared to share in every corner of the world, if need be”.
But there is restlessness in Georgia and Ukraine. Both countries are trying to reclaim territories seized from Russia or Russian-backed separatists. They hope their participation in NATO-led operations will allow them to become NATO members.
The agreement signed Monday is called the Georgia Defense and Deterrence Enhancement Initiative. It is intended to build on a training program begun in 2018. Austin stated that the initiative is focused on strengthening Georgia’s defense institutions as well as “fostering interoperability and NATO”. However, at the moment it doesn’t appear that the United States will provide significant additional personnel or weapons for the support effort.
The United States expects the partnership will run about six years, according to a senior defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview Austin’s discussions in Tbilisi. Although the program is primarily focused on Georgia’s territorial defense it could also be used to address what officials call a mixed Russian threat”, - writes the author