/ 29 June 2009

Russia starts large-scale war games, Georgia fumes

Russia launched large-scale military exercises involving thousands of troops across parts of its southern regions on Monday which Georgia angrily said would violate its territory.

The Defence Ministry said the week-long ”Caucasus 2009” manoeuvres would involve 8 500 military personnel, 200 tanks, 450 armoured vehicles and 250 pieces of artillery, and would stretch over a region from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea.

A senior Russian general said they would include Russian troops stationed in the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, though the extent of their participation was not clear.

Similar Russian exercises in the same region last August allowed Moscow to send troops and tanks into Georgia quickly to repel government troops who tried to retake South Ossetia.

The exercises will cover volatile, mainly Muslim regions such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia and will include ”drills by troops simulating a tense situation gradually escalating from a crisis into an armed conflict”, the Defence Ministry said.

Georgia was quick to denounce the war games on Monday.

Alexander Nalbandov, a Georgian deputy foreign minister, described them as a ”a pure provocation from Russia”.

”The fact that the exercises are held not just on Russian territory, but on Georgia’s occupied territory, with the participation of thousands of soldiers and the involvement of so much military hardware, makes this situation even worse,” he told Reuters.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev criticised Nato for holding exercises close to the war zone in Georgia in May, saying they fuelled tension in the region. An annual event, the Russian exercises were planned before the Nato war games.

The Russian exercises — which will include anti-terrorism drills — were launched two days after Nato and Russia resumed formal cooperation for the first time since last August’s war.

They were due to end on July 6 when United States President Barack Obama arrives in Moscow for summit talks with Medvedev.

General Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of Russia’s Ground Forces, was quoted by Izvestia newspaper as saying the exercises would involve military bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia has now recognised as independent.

He did not say what part they would play. — Reuters