Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard Company H, 121st Infantry (Airborne) Long Range Surveillance Unit conducted an airborne insertion with British ‘C’ Coy, 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment as part of Exercise Noble Partner 2017. Noble Partner 2017 is a U.S. Army Europe-led exercise designed to support the training, progression, and eventual certification of Georgia’s 2nd Light Infantry Company’s contribution to the NATO Response Force.
Moscow respects its neighboring countries’ relations with the United States but is concerned over the expansion of military infrastructure towards the Russian borders, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
While commenting on the US Vice President Michael Pence’s visit to the Baltic States and Georgia, Peskov said that the countries in question are independent states having the right to develop relations with other countries as they wished. “There is no issue [for Russia] in that, and there can never be,” he added.
“Such cooperation only becomes a problem for us when it leads to the expansion of various alliances and their military infrastructure towards our borders,” the Russian presidential spokesman went on to say. “This is what causes us concern. We certainly respect our neighboring countries’ relations with the United States, as well as with other countries,” Peskov said.
When asked to comment on Pence’s statement in which he said that Moscow’s decision to reduce the US diplomatic staff would not deter Washington’s commitment to its security and the security of its allies, Peskov stressed that “this decision [to reduce the staff at the US diplomatic missions in Russia – TASS] has nothing to do with security.” “This is why I would refrain from commenting the US vice president’s statement, I don’t see the connection,” the Kremlin spokesman noted.
The US is considering deploying Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Estonia, US Vice President Mike Pence told Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas on Sunday.
The U.S. Patriot defense system is a mobile, ground-based system designed to intercept missiles and warplanes.
Estonian Prime Minister Ratas said the two leaders talked about the upcoming Russian military manoeuvres planned for near the Estonian border, “and how Estonia, the United States, and NATO should monitor them and exchange information.”
Pence, on the first stop of a trip that will also take him to Georgia and Montenegro, said in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, that Washington stands with the Baltic nations and other allies in Eastern Europe that have expressed concerns about Russia’s intentions in their respective regions.
“Our message to the Baltic states — my message when we visit Georgia and Montenegro — will be the same: To our allies here in Eastern Europe, we are with you, we stand with you on behalf of freedoms,” Pence said in an interview with Fox News.
Ratas said in a statement that the US was vital to the security of the region.
“NATO’s collective position of deterrence and defense has strengthened in the Baltic region and the USA is indispensable to ensuring the security of our immediate neighborhood, as well as all of Europe,” Ratas said.
Lithuania said it was eager to have Patriot missiles when the US military displayed the system in the country earlier this month after using them in an exercise there. Anti-aircraft defense is seen as one of NATO’s weaknesses in the Baltic states.
From Estonia, Pence is scheduled to make stops in Georgia and the newest NATO member, Montenegro.
Estonia and Montenegro are members of NATO, while Georgia has expressed hopes of joining the Western alliance.
Asked about Trump’s commitment to NATO’s mutual-defense provision, Pence told reporters in Tallinn that the U.S. administration has “made it clear that the policy of our administration is to stand firmly with our NATO allies and to stand firmly behind our Article 5 commitment that an attack on one is an attack on all.”
In Georgia, officials said Pence will highlight U.S. support for the Caucasus nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on July 27 that Pence’s visit will demonstrate that the United States continues to support Georgia in building a stronger military force.
During Pence’s visit, some 800 Georgian and 1,600 U.S. troops are taking part in the previously planned Noble Partner 2017 exercises. Pence is scheduled to meet with U.S. troops.
Troops from Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Armenia are also taking part.
“The vice president’s presence here is definitely showing that this is not only about military exercises, but it is also showing unification with our values, with our foreign policy targets, and showing a clear message that we are together,” Margvelashvili said.On the last stop, Pence will welcome NATO’s newest member with his stop in Montenegro, whose accession to the alliance in June has infuriated Russia.
On August 2, he will attend the Adriatic Charter Summit in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, U.S. officials said.
Pence was expected to highlight the U.S. commitment to the Western Balkans and stress the need for good governance, political reforms, and rule of law in the region.
The leaders of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia are also scheduled to attend the summit.
TBILISI (Reuters) – The Georgian army began two weeks of military exercises with the United States and other partner countries on Sunday, a day before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits the ex-Soviet nation.
About 2,800 soldiers from the United States, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, Armenia and Georgia were taking part in the maneuvers, with Washington dispatching an entire mechanized company including several Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks.
Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said the drills were an important event for the South Caucasus republic.
“These exercises will help Georgia to get closer to NATO standards and to strengthen stability in the whole region,” Kvirikashvili said at the opening ceremony on Sunday.
The “Noble Partner” exercises are being held in Georgia for the third time. Russian officials had not commented on the event yet, but in previous years Moscow warned that drills could destabilize the region, a charge denied by Georgian officials and U.S. diplomats.
“This exercise is not directed against any country. It’s about to help Georgia to grow its capacity to interoperate in international operations,” U.S. Ambassador Ian Kelly told Reuters.
Russia and Georgia fought a war in August 2008 over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. Moscow continues to garrison troops there and to support another breakaway region, Abkhazia.
The exercises were being run out of the Vaziani military base near Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.
Russian forces used to be based there until they withdrew at the start of the last decade under the terms of a European arms reduction agreement.
Pence plans to attend the drills and address participants on Tuesday.
The United States has spoken favorably of the idea that Georgia might one day join NATO, something Russia firmly opposes.
Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Dale Hudson.
Fort Carson Mountaineer, By Staff Sgt. Ange Desinor, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division, 3 July 2017
GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany — Soldiers of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, conducted a quick turnaround on equipment maintenance and rail operations to move five battalions to the Black Sea region for an upcoming series of multinational exercises.
Exercise Saber Guardian 17, a U.S. Army Europe-led multinational exercise, will take place in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania from July 11-20, 2017. The exercise is the largest of 18 Black Sea region exercises and will draw approximately 25,000 service members from 23 allied and partner nations to showcase collective deterrence capabilities.
For the 3rd ABCT, the series of exercises is further opportunity to assemble and move the majority of its forces across central and eastern Europe as it demonstrates the ability to mass at any given time to respond to a crisis anywhere in Europe.
It’s the “Iron” Brigade’s eighth movement of a battalion or larger since arriving in Europe in January to serve in a deterrent role as U.S. Army Europe’s regionally allocated land force under Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The brigade just concluded a force-on-force scenario hosted by the Joint Multinational Readiness Center as part of Combined Resolve VIII. Immediately following that intense nine-day fight, Soldiers cleaned and prepared armor and wheeled vehicles for rail movement at Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas.
“I’m really excited to be going to Romania,” said Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Graybill, platoon sergeant, Company C, 588th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd ABCT. “Going to Romania with a new mission will allow us to apply the lessons learned to Saber Guardian. I feel that it will allow us to have more time to polish up on areas and prepare to go to Combined Resolve IX back in Germany later this summer.”
Graybill and his Soldiers are going to provide upper and lower tactical internet communications to Soldiers participating in the exercise.
“We are loading up equipment and vehicles and leaning forward to ensure we are all set up and ready. We ensure that the commander is able to communicate with all the Soldiers on the battlefield,” he said.
Along with the brigade headquarters, the five battalions relocating from Germany to participate in the Getica Saber exercise, a U.S.-led fire coordination exercise and combined arms live-fire exercise July 10-15, 2017, at Cincu, Romania, are the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment; 588th Brigade Engineer Battalion; and 64th Brigade Support Battalion.
The 4th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, moves to Varpalota Training Area, Hungary, to participate in Brave Warrior 17, which focuses on joint maneuvers. The squadron joins its Troop A, which has been training in Hungary since February.
A sixth Iron Brigade unit, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, already has been training in Romania and Bulgaria as part of its Atlantic Resolve mission. The battalion will participate in the Eagle Sentinel and Peace Sentinel live-fire exercises in Bulgaria as part of Saber Guardian 17.
Despite the quick transition from Combined Resolve VIII to Saber Guardian, 3rd ABCT Soldiers were looking forward to a new venue to train with NATO allies and partners.
“I’m always able to adapt to new areas and new experiences,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Kelly, geospatial engineer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “This is my first time going to Romania and being part of something big. I feel very fortunate to be part of the team.”
Later in July and August 2017, a company from 1st Bn., 66th Armor Reg., will participate in Noble Partner 17 in the Republic of Georgia.
This collective training throughout the region is designed to further partner capacity and improve interoperability as part of a profound demonstration of U.S., allied and partner commitment to security and stability in the Black Sea region.
TALLINN – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is to arrive in Estonia on July 30, and during his visit, he is to meet with Estonian prime minister and the presidents of Baltic countries, the White House said on Thursday.
Pence is to meet with Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas and other Estonian officials with whom they will discuss bilateral relations. Pence is to also meet with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
After leaving Estonia, the U.S. vice president will visit Georgia and Romania until Aug. 2.
(FPRI) — The recent NATO Heads of State and Government Meeting in Brussels highlighted NATO’s declining relevance in the South Caucasus and the declining relevance of the region to NATO. The reasons for this lie both within NATO and within the South Caucasus. In NATO, the focus on the Russian threat to the Alliance’s eastern flank, the debate over burden-sharing, uncertainty over the U.S. commitment to Article 5, and members’ concerns over terrorism leave little room for NATO to think seriously about its role in the South Caucasus. This change in relevance was evident in Brussels, where NATO leaders agreed the Alliance would sustain its mission in Afghanistan, join the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and continue its mission to train Iraqi security forces. They also agreed that each Alliance member would develop an annual plan setting out how it intends to meet its commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense, with 20% of that budget invested in equipment. Finally, they agreed that NATO would maintain its dual-track approach toward Russia, combining deterrence with dialogue. Absent was any meaningful discussion of NATO’s role in the South Caucasus.
For its part, the South Caucasus presents an unfortunate combination of fractionalization and susceptibility to Russian pressure, which helps explain NATO’s recalcitrance toward the region. Unlike the Baltics, where a high level of unity and cooperation among the three regional states helped them resist Russian pressure and enter NATO together; and the Balkans, where despite the geopolitical fractures in the region, its distance from Russia tempers Moscow’s ability to apply direct military pressure to those states wishing to join NATO; the South Caucasus possesses both of these disadvantages in abundance. Armenia and Azerbaijan remain in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, making regional cooperation impossible, and Russia retains leverage over all three regional states. For Armenia, Russia is its only true ally; for Azerbaijan, Russia retains the ability to play the spoiler to its hopes of regaining control over Nagorno-Karabakh; and for Georgia, Russia presents a clear military threat. All of these factors have combined to prevent NATO cooperation with South Caucasus countries.
How to Engage a Fractured Region?
The lack of unity and cooperation in the South Caucasus extends to the attitudes of regional states toward NATO. Whereas Georgia’s entire foreign and security policy is oriented on Euro-Atlantic integration, with NATO membership as the natural culmination of this policy, neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan is interested in joining the alliance. The fractionalization of the region presents NATO with the problem of how to engage a region with little regional identity or cooperation.
One method might be to use engagement and assistance as inducements for regional countries to increase cooperation. But this method has little chance of working in the South Caucasus, as the divisions between Armenia and Azerbaijan—still technically at war over the breakaway Azerbaijani province of Nagorno-Karabakh—are too deep to be bridged by any inducement NATO could provide. Another possibility would be to disengage from the region until it stabilizes, presumably under the weight of Russia’s geopolitical presence. But given the proximity of the South Caucasus to Europe, its role as an energy corridor and commercial bridge between Europe and Asia, and the potential for conflict within the region to destabilize the broader Black Sea region, which includes several NATO members, the alliance had historically deemed the South Caucasus too important to ignore. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, then, the South Caucasus had presented NATO with a dilemma. On one hand, the region’s fractionalization made engagement on the regional level impossible, while on the other hand, NATO had important interests in the region.
NATO’s answer to this dilemma had been to focus its engagement on Georgia, while maintaining communication Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Alliance’s engagement of Georgia, led by the U.S., paid off in the form of deployments of Georgian troops to NATO missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Georgia’s deployments were significant for both the numbers of troops deployed and the missions they undertook. In Iraq, the Georgian contingent eventually numbered some 2,000 soldiers, and was tasked with patrolling and interdicting the insurgent supply routes running from the Iranian border to Baghdad. In Afghanistan, the Georgian contingent numbered some 1,600 soldiers at the height of its strength, and was deployed to volatile Helmand Province. Some 800 Georgian soldiers remain in Afghanistan today. In all, over 8,000 Georgian soldiers have deployed to Iraq, and over 13,000 have deployed to Afghanistan so far. The Georgian contingents in Iraq and Afghanistan were the largest non-NATO contingents and dwarfed those of most NATO members.
Aside from its military deployments, Georgia’s desire for Euro-Atlantic integration was a key factor in the impressive political and economic reforms the country has undertaken over the last fifteen years. Georgia transitioned from a failing state with a kleptocratic government to a messy but vibrant parliamentary democracy that has conducted one of the few peaceful constitutional changes of power in the former Soviet Union, outside of the Baltics. It also includes an economic transformation and fight against corruption that moved Georgia from near the bottom of global indices of economic freedom and transparency to near the top.
But NATO’s current preoccupation with other issues threatens to undo much of what went right with its past policy toward the South Caucasus. One of these issues is the strained relationship between the United States and many European alliance members. Fabrice Pouthier and Alexander Vershbow called for a “concrete renewal of vows between the United States and Europe” at the 25-26 May NATO Heads of State and Government Meeting, warning that if doubts about the U.S. commitment to NATO persisted, the U.S. might “assume a posture of transactional unilateralism” and Europe might turn inward. Unfortunately no such renewal of vows occurred. While NATO joined the coalition against ISIS and member states agreed to take concrete steps toward meeting their defense spending commitments, reciprocal U.S. steps were not forthcoming. Indeed, President Trump’s failure to explicitly affirm his support for NATO Article 5 at the meeting will increase uncertainty about the U.S. commitment to the Alliance, despite the attempts of several of his advisors to assure members that it remains ironclad. Pouthier and Vershbow’s warning seemed dismally prophetic when, shortly after the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked that Europe could no longer “rely fully on others.”
Where NATO Can—and Should—Help
None of the above bodes well for a sustained NATO role in the South Caucasus. An alliance uncertain about the commitment of its most important member, straining to meet its commitments to Afghanistan, and faced with a renewed Russian threat to its eastern flank is unlikely to be able to think strategically about a region its members currently see as important but not vital to their security. But inattention to the South Caucasus could have serious long-term negative effects, and a continuing—and even expanded—NATO role in the region would not be difficult to realize. The following three steps could help to stabilize the region and protect NATO’s interests there at little cost to alliance members.
First, NATO should continue its policy of prioritizing relations with Georgia while keeping channels open to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Georgia’s path toward Euro-Atlantic integration has not been risk-free or cost-free. Many of the reforms its governments have undertaken involved painful adjustments that, while they will pay off over the long-term, involved short-term costs that the Georgian people were asked to bear. Georgians were and remain willing to tolerate these costs at least partly because they see them as requirements for integration into the Euro-Atlantic community.
Aside from the economic and social costs involved in pursuing a Euro-Atlantic course, Georgia also incurred military costs. By keeping large numbers of its military deployed to U.S. and NATO-led military operations while facing a clear Russian military threat, Georgia incurred significant risk to its security. This risk was made manifest in August 2008, when Russia and Georgia went to war over the separatist Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and some 20% of the Georgian Army was unavailable to defend the country because it was deployed to Iraq.
NATO made clear in the final communique from its April 2008 Summit that Georgia and Ukraine would become members of the Alliance. Both Georgia and Ukraine subsequently suffered Russian military interventions that left significant portions of their territory under Russian military occupation. NATO’s failure to move forward on the pledge to accept Georgia and Ukraine into the Alliance, especially when combined with statements from the U.S. administration that leave the U.S. commitment to Article 5 in question, erode NATO’s credibility as a collective security organization and contribute to instability and insecurity along NATO’s eastern flank. NATO should continue to reaffirm the 2008 commitment at every major meeting, and should publish a clear list of tasks Georgia needs to accomplish to gain Alliance membership.
The next step NATO should take is to include the South Caucasus into its campaign against ISIS. As the only region in the world that shares borders with NATO, Russia, and the Middle East, the South Caucasus is uniquely positioned to play a role in NATO’s campaign against the terrorist group. Integrating the region into its campaign would improve regional stability and enhance NATO’s credibility in several ways. Because Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan all have citizens that have left the Caucasus to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and all share a concern about the return of these fighters to their home countries, NATO assistance in this area would help to stabilize the region and provide a rare opportunity for these three states to cooperate. Because the defeat of ISIS is the current security priority of the United States, American support for this initiative should not be difficult to gain. NATO assistance in this area could focus in the areas of intelligence-sharing and border security, neither of which are overly expensive or complex undertakings.
Finally, NATO should create a separate Special Representative for the South Caucasus. The current Special Representative handles both the South Caucasus and Central Asia, despite the fact that the two regions matter to NATO in very different ways. The South Caucasus borders a NATO member (Turkey) and contains a country designated as a future member (Georgia). While the Central Asian States are important to NATO’s assistance mission in Afghanistan, they are geographically far from NATO and none of them are candidates for membership. Naming a Special Representative for the South Caucasus would send a signal that NATO is serious about its role in the region.
None of these steps would be significantly costly for NATO to accomplish but, taken together, they would signal a renewed NATO interest in the security and stability of the South Caucasus and lend renewed legitimacy to NATO’s Open Door policy. Failing to invigorate its presence in the South Caucasus and to take concrete steps to reaffirm the Open Door policy could significantly damage NATO’s credibility. As Tracy German noted in a recent article on the issue, “If NATO ultimately rejects any prospect of membership for states in the post-Soviet space, they could be abandoned to Russian influence, indicating that Moscow has a de facto veto over membership of the alliance and conceding spheres of influence to Russia.” This outcome would undermine NATO’s entire purpose as a political and military alliance dedicated to democratic values and the peaceful resolution of disputes, but possessed of the military power and the will to collectively defend its members if required.
The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army War College, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
About the author: U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Hamilton is a Black Sea Fellow at FPRI.