, MOSCOW, Aug 5 – Russia on Wednesday accused the United States of quietly rearming Georgia a year after Russian forces crushed the ex-Soviet state’s US-backed military, and warned Moscow would respond accordingly.
"Delivery of weapons from the United States is continuing," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigori Karasin told journalists at a briefing ahead of the first anniversary of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
"This is worrisome and will force us to take corresponding measures," Karasin said. He did not elaborate on what types of weapons were involved or on how Russia would respond.
His comments however marked one of the most pointed official accusations that the United States, which recently reaffirmed a strategic commitment to Georgia, was stoking tensions in the volatile Caucasus region.
On a visit to Tbilisi on July 23, US Vice President Joe Biden admitted that Washington, which equipped and trained Georgian forces prior to the war last August, was today working on "maintaining" the Georgian military.
He said then however that the effort was confined to "planning, training, organization" — not supply of weapons.
Karasin said the same day that Russian would prevent the rearming of Georgia. The following day, Russia’s ambassador to NATO said Moscow would impose sanctions on US or any other foreign firms that sold arms to Georgia.
"No one can give us any guarantee there will be no new aggression from Georgia," Karasin said at the press conference Wednesday.
A top Russian general separately said Russia could "clearly see" that Georgia was today rearming and trying to rebuild its armed forces "to previous levels and higher" than what it had prior to last year’s war.
The general, Anatoly Nogovitsin, said this effort was "for the purpose of aggression" and was being supported by the United States and other Western countries at least financially and through "declarations" of support.
The secretary of Georgia’s national Security Council, Eka Tkeshelashvili, dismissed Russia’s accusations that Georgia was rearming as a "ridiculous perception" concocted in Moscow to foster a "myth" of Georgian aggression.
The United States has long supported the goal of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to lead his country away from its centuries-old dominance by Moscow and toward membership in NATO and Western political institutions.
The Kremlin however has made clear — most dramatically in connection with the war in Georgia last year — that it regards expanding NATO influence in ex-Soviet states near Russian borders as a major and direct security threat.
Russia and the West are also in intensifying competition for influence in Georgia due to its vital location astride a geographical corridor that could be used to transport energy from Central Asia directly to Western markets.
Late Tuesday, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the situation in the Caucasus as the Georgia war anniversary approaches, with both men agreeing on the need to reduce tensions there, the White House said.
The Kremlin confirmed the conversation, but injected a slightly different spin regarding its purpose.
"Both sides underscored the need to preserve a relationship of trust between the two presidents and their teams," the Kremlin said in a statement.
In another development, The New York Times reported that two Russian nuclear-powered submarines had been patrolling in recent days off the US east coast, causing worry among US defence officials.
Russia did not comment on the movements of its strategic submarines. But an unnamed "military-diplomatic source" told news agencies that Russian submarines broke no laws and did nothing that NATO submarines did not also do.
"Consequently, any hysteria in such a case is inappropriate," the source was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.