The commander of U.S. Army Europe and Africa, General Christopher Cavoli, was in Georgia for three days this week, March 15-17, to consolidate control of the Pentagon’s and NATO’s military main partner on Russia’s southern border.
It will soon be the thirteenth anniversary of the five-day war between Georgia and Russia, one launched by Georgia initially against South Ossetia less than a month after the conclusion of U.S.-led Immediate Response war games in Georgia. The exercise included 1,000 U.S. Army and Marine personnel and was used to train troops from NATO Partnership for Peace nations Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine for war-zone and post-war-zone deployments in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and others to come; all the above four are former Soviet republics, all either bordering or near Russia.
Before the exercise, which ran from July 15-31, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the Georgian capital, with Deutsche Welle reporting on the event with the headline Russia, US Swap Warnings as Condoleezza Rice Visits Georgia.
Shortly after Immediate Response was concluded, Georgia started shelling South Ossetia, including its capital of Tskhinval, killing several people, with at least one Russian peacekeeper among the slain.
After Georgia invaded South Ossetia on August 8, triggering a war with Russia, the U.S. transported all 2,000 Georgian troops then serving in Iraq home for the war with Russia. That would surely appear to make Washington a belligerent in a war with Russia. The first time that the two nuclear powers can be said to have been directly involved on opposing sides in an armed conflict. (Though U.S. troops were in Russia 1918-1919 intervening against the then new Bolshevik government.)
There is an historical context, then, to General Cavoli’s visit to Georgia this week. He met with Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze and Major General Giorgi Matiashvili, Commander of the Georgian Defense Forces. They deliberated over “security challenges in the region, security cooperation initiatives and prospects for future cooperation,” with special emphasis on “joint exercises and exercises, including the multinational exercise Agile Spirit scheduled for summer 2021.”
The Agile Spirit war games have been occurring for over a decade, in part as a response to the war of 2008; to better prepare Georgian combat forces for the next armed conflict with South Ossetia and Russia as well as Abkhazia. The exercises integrate the military forces of the U.S., Georgia and NATO member and partner states.
Cavoli also inspected the Combat Training Center at the Vaziani Military Base, where for years U.S. military instructors have been training Georgian troops as part of the Pentagon’s Georgian Defense Readiness Program. The latter was started in 2018 by the U.S. Defense Department to “to mentor and advise the modernization of the Georgian Defense Force’s light infantry battalions thus improving their combat readiness….” Last year a Georgian military official said, “After we are done training our light infantry battalions, we are hoping to transition this training to all combat soldiers.”
As regards the American troops running the program, this represents a permanent presence in Georgia.
Vaziani Military Base also hosts the NATO-Georgian Joint Training and Evaluation Center “designed to assist Georgia to reform, modernise and strengthen its security and defence sector; enhance the interoperability of Georgian Forces, enabling them to work alongside forces from NATO members and partners and offer multi-national training and exercise opportunities; and contribute to promoting regional stability in the Black Sea and Caucasus region.” It is part of the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package adopted at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014.
U.S.- and NATO-trained Georgian troops are now participating in DEFENDER-Europe 21 30,000-troop, 27-nation war games conducted to prepare for armed conflict with an unnamed European adversary. One with a blue, red and white flag; one whose capital is Moscow.