(Washington, D.C.) — With tensions high in Eastern Europe amidst the crisis in Ukraine, the government of Georgia is urgently seeking membership into the European Union and NATO, in part to defend itself against Russian imperialism.
Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin has put 150,000 Russian troops on alert, conducting snap exercises and causing tensions in the region to spike even further.
As you will recall, Russia invaded Georgia and occupied parts of it in August of 2008.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is currently in Washington. In a meeting with Vice President Biden yesterday, he received the White House blessing for Georgia to become part of the European economic and security alliance.
“The United States is urging the former Soviet republic of Georgia to further integrate with Europe and NATO and renewing demands that Russia withdraw troops from disputed enclaves it occupies there,” reports the Associated Press. “The call comes amid growing tensions between Russia and the West over the ouster of a pro-Moscow president in Ukraine, another former Soviet republic.
“In comments likely to fuel already heightened Russian suspicions over Western intentions in Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday announced additional but unspecified U.S. assistance ‘to help support Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic vision,” noted the AP. “[Kerry] also denounced Russia’s continued military presence in the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and called on Moscow to fulfill the terms of the cease-fire that ended the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.”
“President Vladimir Putin has put armed forces in western Russia on alert, amid rising tensions in the pro-Russian Crimea over the overthrow of Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovych by pro-European protesters,” reports the UK Telegraph. “In a sign of Moscow’s displeasure at events in Ukraine, Mr Putin ordered an urgent drill to test troops’ combat readiness, a move that could further raise the temperature in the region where supporters and opponents of the revolution were today locked in an ugly stand-off.”
“Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, said Moscow was ‘carefully watching what is happening in Crimea’ and that measures were being taken to ensure the security of the facilities and arsenals of its Black Sea naval fleet, which is based in the fiercely pro-Russian Crimean city of Sebastopol,” noted the Telegraph. “He denied that the drill – which is to involve some 150,000 military personnel – was linked to events in Ukraine. But he said it would include military exercises ‘on Russia’s borders with other countries, including Ukraine.’ Forces must ‘be ready to bomb unfamiliar testing grounds’ as part of the drill, Mr Shoigu told a Defence Ministry meeting. The autonomous eastern peninsula, home to a largely ethnic Russian population, is at the centre of fears that former Soviet state could fragment in the struggle between its pro-Russian and pro-European regions.”
The Telegraph also noted:
•On Tuesday the US and Britain sought to defuse the crisis, insisting the country must not be a battleground between East and West.
•“This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East,” said John Kerry, the US secretary of state, after meeting William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, on Tuesday.
•But today, the question of Georgia threatened to further stir tensions, as Washington urged the former Soviet republic to integrate further with NATO and sign a partnership agreement with the European Union this year.
•During an unfortunately timed visit from the country’s prime minister, Washington also renewed demands that Russia withdraw troops from disputed enclaves it now occupies there.
•Mr Kerry insisted that US policy toward the states that once made up the Soviet Union is not aimed at reducing Russia’s influence in its neighborhood.
•But it is nevertheless likely to irritate Moscow, particularly given the origins of the Ukraine crisis in a dispute over an EU partnership agreement.
•Mr Lavrov this morning called on Europe’s democracy watchdog to condemn the rise of “nationalist and neo-fascist sentiment” in western Ukraine.