Biden pledges US loyalty to Georgia
American Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Georgia and Ukraine this week were aimed to reassure the two countries that the US would not abandon them as President Barack Obama seeks to repair badly strained relations with Russia.Tbilisi -- Vice President Joe Biden pledged US support Thursday for Georgia as Russia warned it would not allow "remilitarization" of the strategic ex-Soviet state following a war there a year ago.
"The reason why I am here ... is to show you that we stand with you," Biden said as he met President Mikheil Saakashvili ahead of a keynote address to the Georgian parliament.
Biden's visit to Georgia and a trip to Ukraine earlier this week were aimed to reassure the two countries that the United States would not abandon them as President Barack Obama seeks to repair badly strained relations with Russia.
Georgia was battered in a fierce, five-day war with Russia last August, and a number of former Soviet-bloc countries have voiced nervousness that Obama's drive to improve ties with the Kremlin could leave them vulnerable.
Even as Biden was appearing with Saakashvili before journalists to reiterate US support for the mountainous Caucasus nation, Moscow fired another diplomatic shot across the bows.
In an interview with the Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said Moscow would not permit Georgia to re-arm.
"We are deeply concerned about the actions of the Georgian leadership aimed at the remilitarization of the country, which are amazingly being met with a calm and even a positive reaction by some governments," Karasin said.
"We will continue to prevent the re-arming of Saakashvili's regime and are taking concrete measures against this," he added.
Prior to the war last August, the United States had provided military assistance to Georgia that included force training and various categories of weaponry and defence materiel.
Much of this, however, was destroyed in the war last summer and Georgian officials made it plain they were anxious to retain close defence cooperation with the United States.
"The US-Georgia strategic partnership charter envisages, among other issues, that the United States will help Georgia to further develop its defence capabilities," parliamentary speaker David Bakradze told AFP.
No specific details on supply of US armaments to Georgia had been discussed "so far" during Biden's visit, Bakradze said.
Georgia's national security council secretary, Eka Tkeshelashvili, said it was "wrong to say that we are discussing such a minor issue" as the supply of US arms during Biden's visit.
"We are holding talks on a strategic level," she said, adding that Karasin's comments were "propaganda" aimed at "trying to portray Georgia as a particularly militarized country, which of course is not true."
Biden was scheduled to leave Georgia and return to Washington later Thursday following his speech to parliament.
Saakashvili, speaking to reporters as he greeted Biden earlier, insisted Georgia had made an "irreversible" choice in favour of democracy and also remained committed to joining NATO.
"We are dedicated to joining Europe, the North Atlantic alliance," the Georgian president said.
Although no specific agenda for Biden's meetings was made public, Georgian officials said ahead of his arrival that they were engaged in talks for US personnel to join a European Union monitoring mission in the country.
European monitors patrol near two rebel regions that were the epicentre of last August's fighting between Russian and Georgian forces. They are part of an EU-brokered ceasefire deal that ended the fighting.
The United States has not confirmed whether sending US personnel to Georgia is on the agenda for the talks, but it has long backed Saakashvili's drive to reassert Georgian sovereignty over the two regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Both regions were formally recognized as independent countries by Russia in the wake of last year's war, but most of the world condemned the move, with only Nicaragua following suit.