Russia Accuses US of Provocation as Documents Confirm US Trained Georgian Commandos

September 8th, 2008 - by admin

Oleg Shchedrov and Aidar Buribayev / Reuters & Charles Clover and Demetri Sevastopulo / The Financial Times – 2008-09-08 01:12:35

Conflict in the Caucasus
The conflict between Russia and Georgia began on the night of August 7, when Georgian forces, including commando units, tanks and artillery, assaulted the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. Russia says that at least 133 civilians died in the attack, as well as 59 of its own peacekeepers, according to figures released this week. In response Russia launched a mass invasion and aerial bombardment of Georgia, in which 215 Georgians have died, including 146 soldiers and 69 civilians.
— The Financial Times of London

Russia Accuses West of Warship Provocation in Georgia
Oleg Shchedrov and Aidar Buribayev / Reuters

MOSCOW, (September 6, 2008) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused the United States on Saturday of provoking Moscow by using warships to deliver relief aid to its ally Georgia, with which Russia fought a brief war last month.

“I wonder how they would feel if we now dispatched humanitarian assistance to the Caribbean, suffering from a hurricane, using our navy,” Medvedev said, adding that a whole US fleet had been dispatched to deliver the aid.

Russia has also accused US warships of rearming Tbilisi’s defeated army, a charge dismissed as “ridiculous” by Washington.

Vice President Dick Cheney stepped up U.S. criticism of Russia’s actions in Georgia, accusing Moscow of reverting to old tactics of intimidation and of using “brute force.”

NATO has rejected talk of a buildup of its warships in the Black Sea, saying their recent presence in the region was part of routine exercises.

The biggest U.S. ship to arrive so far, the USS Mount Whitney, dropped anchor on Friday off the Russian-patrolled Georgian port of Poti.

Medvedev, speaking at a meeting of his advisory state council, said he had summoned the council to discuss changes in Russia’s foreign and security policy after the war.

Tension between Moscow and the West had eased when the OSCE security body said on Saturday Russia was allowing its observers to circulate freely throughout Georgia, but the breakaway Georgian region Abkhazia later said it was forging military cooperation with Moscow.

“We’ve had very good access. I think we’re working at it and the Russians are, I’d argue, opening up,” said Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb in Avignon, chairman in office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE report comes days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy travels to Moscow for talks with Medvedev to assess Russian compliance with a French-brokered peace plan.

The European Union agreed on Saturday to send an “autonomous mission” to Georgia to monitor Russia’s withdrawal from occupied territory, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, accusing Moscow of failing to respect several points in the peace plan.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief but intense war after Tbilisi sent in troops to try to seize back the rebel region of South Ossetia, provoking massive retaliation by Moscow.

The conflict has dented confidence in the Caucasus as an energy transit route — Georgia is at the heart of two crucial oil and gas pipelines which bring high-quality crude and gas from booming oil state Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey.

Cheney, speaking in Italy after a tour of former Soviet states including Georgia, said Russia’s leaders “cannot have things both ways”.

“They cannot presume to gather up all the benefits of commerce, consultation, and global prestige, while engaging in brute force, threats, or other forms of intimidation against sovereign democratic countries,” he said.

Analysts have also questioned the feasibility of the ambitious Nabucco gas pipeline project, which would bring Caspian Sea gas to Europe via Georgia, reducing reliance on Russia.

Russian stocks and the ruble have been hurt as foreign investors pull money out because of increased political risk.

The West has stepped up support for Georgia to join NATO — a move Moscow opposes on the ground that Georgia is in its sphere of influence — since Russia recognised the Georgian breakaway rebel regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

So far only Nicaragua has followed Russia’s lead in recognising the two provinces as independent. In a setback for Russia, its ex-Soviet security allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation stopped short of doing so late last week.

Tbilisi and Western states have accused Russia of annexation, a claim Moscow sharply denies.

On Saturday self-styled Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh said he expected to reach agreement with Moscow soon on military cooperation.

“We’re insisting (on military cooperation) and we will ask the Russian Federation to leave Russian troops in Abkhazia,” Bagapsh told reporters in the Russian capital, adding that the agreement should be signed within the next few days in Moscow.

“(The Russian military) will also probably be in front of the security zone,” he said, referring to a zone set up on the Abkhaz boundary in the early 1990s, when the province fought off Georgian rule. Russian peacekeepers have been based there since.

Hostilities in Georgia have given new impetus to efforts to prevent other conflict in the broader Caucasus region.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul paid a landmark visit to neighbouring long-time foe Armenia on Saturday to attend a soccer match he said could help end a century of mutual hostility and aid regional security.

(Reporting by Oleg Shchedrov and Aidar Buribayev in Moscow, Mark John and Francois Murphy in Avignon, Paul de Bendern in Yerevan; writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Dominic Evans)

US Military Trained Georgian Commandos
Charles Clover and Demetri Sevastopulo / The Financial Times

MOSCOW & WASHINGTON (September 5, 2008) — The US military provided combat training to 80 Georgian special forces commandos only months prior to Georgia’s army assault in South Ossetia in August.

The revelation, based on recruitment documents and interviews with US military trainers obtained by the Financial Times, could add fuel to accusations by Vladimir Putin, Russian prime minister, last month that the US had “orchestrated” the war in the Georgian enclave.

The training was provided by senior US soldiers and two military contractors. There is no evidence that the contractors or the Pentagon, which hired them, knew that the commandos they were training were likely be used in the assault on South Ossetia.

A US army spokesman said the goal of the programme was to train the commandos for duty in Afghanistan as part of Nato-led International Security Assist_ance Force. The programme, however, highlights the often unintended consequences of US “train and equip” programmes in foreign countries.

The contractors — MPRI and American Systems, both based in Virginia — recruited a 15-man team of former special forces soldiers to train the Georgians at the Vashlijvari special forces base on the outskirts of Tbilisi, part of a programme run by the US defence department.

MPRI was hired by the Pentagon in 1995 to train the Croatian military prior to their invasion of the ethnically-Serbian Krajina region, which led to the displacement of 200,000 refugees and was one of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars. MPRI denies any wrongdoing.

US training of the Georgian army is a big flashpoint between Washington and Moscow. Mr Putin said on CNN on August 29: “It is not just that the American side could not restrain the Georgian leadership from this criminal act [of intervening in South Ossetia]. The American side in effect armed and trained the Georgian army.”

The first phase of the special forces training was held between January and April this year, concentrating on “basic special forces skills” said an American Systems employee interviewed by phone from the US army’s Fort Bragg.

The US military official familiar with the programme said the Pentagon hired the military contracting firms to help supplement its own trainers because of a lack of manpower.

The second 70-day phase was set to begin on August 11, a few days after war broke out in South Ossetia. The trainers arrived on August 3, four days before the conflict flared on August 7. “They would have only seen the inside of a hotel room,” quipped one former contractor. Neither MPRI nor American Systems would speak at length to the FT about the programme.

American Systems di_rected questions to the US army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organisation (Satmo) at Fort Bragg, part of the US Army’s Special Warfare Center School. Satmo sends trainers, mainly special forces but also contractors, to countries such as Yemen, Colombia and the Philippines. Satmo trainers generally work with forces involved in counter-insurgencies, counter-terrorism or civil wars. A Satmo spokesman declined to comment.

One US military official familiar with the programme said it emerged from a Georgian offer to the US in December 2006 to send commandos to Afghanistan to work alongside American special operations forces.

According to this person, the US told Georgia that the offer should be made through Nato, which welcomed the offer but informed Georgia that its forces would need additional training to meet the military alliance’s standards.

While the programme is not classified, there is a lack of transparency surrounding it, though US military officials said the lack of publicity was not part of an effort to keep the programme secret. Other US military training programmes in Georgia have their own websites and photo galleries.

A US European Command spokesman confirmed the existence of the programme only after reviewing an e-mail sent by MPRI recruiters that was obtained by the FT.

According to the e-mail, which did not mention Nato operations, former US special operations forces would receive $2,000 ($1,150, €1,400) a week plus costs as trainers. “We can confirm the programme exists, but due to its nature and training ob_jectives we do not discuss specifics to ensure the integrity of the programme and force protection of the trainers and participants,” he said.

James Appathurai, NATO’s spokesman in Brussels, said: “Georgia has made an offer to provide forces to Isaf in the last two years. But until now these Georgian forces have not joined the Isaf mission.” An official at a senior Nato member state said it was understood that the forces had been trained by the US, but that the forces had not passed a certification process under which all potential members of the Isaf mission are vetted.

Additional reporting James Blitz in London

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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