U.S. Destroyer Anchors Off Georgia for Exercises

Published July 14, 2009

| AP

A U.S. guided missile destroyer dropped anchor Tuesday in Georgia's Black Sea waters ahead of joint naval exercises seen as a show of American support for the former Soviet nation crushed in last year's war with Russia.

The exercises came one day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's first visit to South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian region that Russia recognized as independent in the conflict's aftermath.

Both events reflect how far apart Russia and the United States remain over Washington's support for the former Soviet nation of Georgia, despite last week's cordial Moscow summit between Medvedev and President Barack Obama.

The USS Stout harbored off Batumi, where its commander, Mark J. Oberley, was welcomed ashore with Georgian music and wine.

"This visit and the combined training demonstrate the U.S. and Georgian commitment to work together, to cooperate and maintain maritime security," Oberley said.

The naval exercises, to begin Wednesday, are to be held in Georgia's territorial waters between the ports of Batumi and Poti, not far from the coast of the Moscow-supported breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Two vessels of the Georgian Coast Guard are to participate. Georgian Navy Commander Beso Shengelia said the small-scale drills would involve averting a sinking after a hull breach, capturing a hostile boat, and joint maneuvers in conflict situations.

Russia strongly objected to NATO military exercises near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in May, and conducted its own drills on a much larger scale near the Georgian border earlier this month.

Medvedev's surprise visit to South Ossetia on Monday was cast by Moscow as a show of solidarity for locals under perpetual threat of renewed military intervention from Georgia.

Georgia, which called Medvedev's visit an act of provocation, insists that South Ossetia is under Russian occupation. Thousands of Russian troops remain in the province after the August conflict, and the boundary with Georgia proper has been fortified.

Last August, Georgia attacked the region, which has long had de facto independence, to try to retake it. Russian tanks and troops poured into the region immediately and overwhelmed the Georgian army.

Russia said it was acting in defense of locals with Russian passports.

Abkhaz rebels also clashed with Georgian forces during the war. Moscow later recognized both regions as independent nations.

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