Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Georgia/US/Russia

The US is sticking it to the Russians a little this week. Firstly, the US is becoming very interested in Georgia, who just had elections bringing a new, pro-US president to power. The US even gave Georgia money to help pay for said elections. Although the US says it is not interested in placing any military bases in Georgia, there seems to be an interest in helping the Georgians get two Russian bases out.

Seeking to soothe fears of growing rivalry along Russia's borders with former Soviet republics, U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Monday said the U.S. has no plans to create military bases in Georgia.

At the same time, U.S. officials have not ruled out a long-term security presence in the strategically important Caucasus republic, once a part of the Soviet empire and still a crucial component of the Kremlin's effort to maintain an extensive sphere of influence and counter NATO's expansion toward its western frontier.

"We have no plans to set up military bases in Georgia," Powell said after meeting with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov. It was the first in a series of meetings aimed at smoothing the edgy U.S.-Russian relationship that emerged after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"We simply want to have good relations with Georgia," Powell said. "The U.S. does not want to build bases all over the world. There is no need to."

[...]

Powell's arrival over the weekend for the inauguration of President Mikheil Saakashvili underscored what the secretary said was the United States' commitment to help Georgia promote democracy, improve its economy, protect human rights and end corruption.

He said the presence of more than 200 U.S. troops who arrived in Georgia in 2002 to provide counterterrorism training was a benefit to Russia, which has suffered attacks mounted by Chechen rebels out of Georgia's Pankisi Gorge.

Responding to fears that the United States is attempting to oust Russia from the Caucasus, Powell told Russian television: "It's not a matter of kicking anybody out of anywhere. We are friends with the Georgians. The Russian Federation, they are friends with the Georgians. This is not like the old days, where we're competing for land or competing for power."

Russian fears had been heightened by reports last month that U.S. officials were considering keeping military trainers in Georgia indefinitely, possibly to help protect the new $3.6-billion pipeline designed to carry Caspian oil from Baku in Azerbaijan to the West.

The U.S. has urged Russia to accelerate its removal of two former Soviet military bases in Georgia, but Russia now says it will require at least 11 years to dismantle them. Powell told Russian reporters that the U.S. is ready to help pay for closing the bases, an offer some Russians see as interference.

In addition, Secretary of State Colin Powell recently criticized the state of the Russian democracy:

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday he was worried about Russia's democracy in unusually blunt comments that underscored widespread concerns the Kremlin is turning increasingly autocratic.

In a front-page article published in major Russian daily Izvestia, he said Russian politics were not sufficiently subject to the rule of law and made clear there were limits to the U.S.-Russian relationship without shared values.

He also challenged Russia's policy in Chechnya, where Moscow is waging a brutal campaign against separatists.


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