MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russia–opening up a major split in its anti-terrorism partnership with the United States–told Washington on Wednesday that deploying US forces in Georgia would only worsen the security situation in the region.
Reacting sharply to reports that Washington was poised to send elite forces to the former Soviet republic to train Georgian troops–Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said: "We think it could further aggravate the situation in the region which is difficult as it is."
Senior US army officers met Georgian leaders on Wednesday as Washington–rousing Russian ire–said it would train the ex-Soviet state’s rag-tag armed forces as part of the global war against terrorism.
The visiting US officers discussed with Georgian defense officials a recently agreed "train-and-equip" program under which the United States would increase its military assistance.
"The train-and-equip program that we discussed today…is designed to allow the Georgian military to better secure its territorial integrity and provide its own security," Elmer Guy White–Eurasia branch chief of US Unified Command in Europe–told reporters in the defense ministry.
"The significant result of this program will be to advance Georgia’s ongoing defense reforms."
The five-strong group arrived from Azerbaijan and was due to leave on Thursday for Armenia on a tour of three ex-Soviet countries on Russia’s southern flank which benefit from the scheme.
The country has come under international scrutiny since the United States said fighters linked to Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network could be based in the Pankisi Gorge–bordering Russia’s separatist Chechnya region.