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Aug 14, 2009 | 14:55 GMT

4 mins read

U.S., Georgia: Encroaching in the Russian Sphere of Influence

The U.S. military said Aug. 14 that it will continue to train Georgian troops for a deployment to Afghanistan. The United States insists that the training will be limited to assisting Georgian forces on the ground in Afghanistan and that it will not provide weapons to the small country. But Russia is strongly opposed to the continued military cooperation between United States and Georgia, and Moscow will have no choice but to respond to the perceived interference in its sphere of influence.
The United States will resume its military training mission in the former Soviet republic of Georgia on Sept. 1 in order to prepare a select contingent of troops for deployment to Afghanistan, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Aug. 14. Morrell said the training would only help Georgian troops contribute to the Afghan operations and is not intended to act as a counterweight to Russian military influence along Georgia's borders or within the separatist regions. The United States has continually trained Georgian troops for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 — this has kept approximately a dozen U.S. military personnel inside of Georgia. Tbilisi pulled Georgian troops out of Iraq in August 2008 after Russia invaded Georgia (they were flown back to Georgia in U.S. military aircraft). The United States also froze its training of Georgian troops during and following the Russo-Georgian war, but resumed smaller military officer training in the past month. However, now Tbilisi has repledged 750 troops for Afghanistan, and between 10 and 50 U.S. Marines will train the Georgian troops — this training will focus specifically on counterinsurgency and tactical proficiencies appropriate to the U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan. Georgia has regularly requested that the United States or NATO help train its military on defensive operations that will help the country counter an invasion by its more powerful, conventionally armed neighbor: Russia. But that request was clearly rejected during U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden's visit to Tbilisi in July. Biden and the Pentagon assured Russia that it had nothing to fear because the training would be limited strictly to helping the Georgian forces on the ground in Afghanistan and no weapons would be provided to Georgia. Also, the only troops to be trained by the United States will be leaving Georgia to deploy — an issue that proved problematic in August 2008 when many of the best-trained Georgian troops (in terms of unit cohesion and basic tactical proficiencies) were not in the country when Russian troops entered Georgia. But even though the U.S. training is not as focused on developing the tactics and skills necessary for Georgia to defend itself as Tbilisi would like, the continued connection between the United States and Georgia — especially militarily — goes against Russian wishes. Moscow has made it clear since the August 2008 war that Georgia lies in Russia's sphere of influence and the United States should stop its push for a pro-Western Georgia via politics, military or inclusion into Western organizations like NATO. Having the Georgians participate militarily with NATO operations offends Moscow. Russian relations with the United States have worsened following U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Moscow in which he refused to back down on his support for Georgia, Ukraine and U.S. ballistic missile defense plans in Poland. Now, the United States is demonstrating this continued support in Georgia. Russia has already started to respond by turning up its own military heat near Georgia, indicating that Russian forces are prepared on the ground to launch another invasion at any moment. But the Russians need to respond not only to Georgia, but also to the United States' continued dismissal of Russia's returning status as a great power. Acting out against the United States in Georgia is significant, but Russia has already proven that it is the decisive power in this region. What STRATFOR is watching for is other arenas in which Russia could act out against the United States, such as Iran and Europe. However, it is clear that Moscow will continue its pressure on Georgia.

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