U.S. warships bring aid to Georgia, fueling tensions with Russia

A second United States naval vessel carrying humanitarian aid docked at the Georgian port of Batumi on Wednesday, amid Russian accusations that the ships are bringing arms to bolster the Georgian military.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas arrived at the port late in the morning, three days after the arrival of the U.S.S. McFaul destroyer. In an apparent response to the U.S. naval buildup, Russia sent a group of warships including the Moskva missile cruiser to the capital of Abkhazia, around 100 miles to the north of Batumi.

International media reports said the U.S. vessels had avoided arriving at the Poti port, due to Russia's military presence. Poti was a focus of Russia's recent 'peace enforcement' operation that followed Georgia's military offensive in South Ossetia, which along with Abkhazia was recognized as a new state by Russia on Tuesday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said the U.S. ships are delivering weaponry for Georgia's armed forces, and has denied that Russian troops are still patrolling Poti.

"We are not controlling it, and are not blockading it - this is nonsense," he said in an interview with French TV channel TF1.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.S. warships are raising tensions in the region.

"Battleships do not normally deliver aid, and this is gunboat diplomacy - it does not make the situation more stable," he said.

The U.S. cutter, carrying food and essential commodities, was sent after NATO announced its decision to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia following the end of hostilities between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia on August 12.

A Russian military intelligence source earlier told RIA Novosti that NATO warships currently stationed in the Black Sea are carrying over 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles between them. The Western military alliance began exercises in the sea on Friday involving U.S., German, Spanish and Polish vessels.

Lavrov said on Tuesday that "virtually all states that are supplying arms to Georgia are NATO member countries."

A senior Russian naval official said on Wednesday that measures are in place to prevent the smuggling of arms in the region.

"We are controlling territorial waters and the adjacent area, ensuring shipping safety, and preventing the smuggling of arms and military vehicles," Vice Adm. Sergei Menyailo, commander of the Novorossiisk naval base said.

Russia's General Staff said on Tuesday that there were 10 NATO ships in the Black Sea - three U.S. warships, the Polish frigate General Pulaski, the German frigate FGS Lubeck, and the Spanish navy ship Admiral Juan de Borbon, as well as four Turkish vessels.

[Source: Novosti, Tbilisi, 28Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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