Georgia, U.S. to hold joint military exercise in summer 2007

Georgia Materials 12 December 2006 16:10 (UTC +04:00)

(RIA Novosti) - Georgia has scheduled its first joint military exercise with the United States for the summer of 2007, a high-ranking Georgian defense ministry official said Tuesday.

In an interview with the popular daily Vremya Novostei, Georgia's First Deputy Defense Minister Levan Nikoleishvili said the exercise, which will be held at the battalion level, will be held regularly in the future and will help with Georgia's accession to NATO.

"The United States is our most serious military partner," Nikoleishvili said, adding that Georgia has not benefited from any military or technical cooperation with Russia for the past several years, reports Trend.

Relations between Russia and Georgia, which have been tense in recent years over the status of Russian-leaning breakaway republics in Georgia and Tbilisi's drive to join NATO, hit a new low when four Russian officers were briefly detained in Tbilisi on spying charges in September.

Russia subsequently suspended all transportation and mail links with the South Caucasus country, expelled hundreds of Georgian nationals living in Russia illegally and closed several Moscow casinos and restaurants allegedly owned by the Georgian mafia.

Nikoleishvili said Georgia has carefully studied the experiences of the United States, Switzerland, Norway, Israel and Finland on the training of military reserves, as the country intends to train up to 100,000 reserve servicemen.

"Under the concept of 'total defense,' we need a serious [military] reserve system," he said. "We must guarantee Georgia's stable development."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who spent his vacation in August at a military reserve training camp in the east of the South Caucasus country, said earlier he intended to propose to the country's parliament that reserve training be obligatory for all men under 40.

Nikoleishvili was also optimistic when speaking about Georgia's prospects of joining NATO, saying that the organization will probably unveil a plan on the country's accession by the end of 2007.

"We are more then ever convinced that we chose the right course, and are now closer to joining NATO," he said.

As well as being uneasy about the opening of NATO bases on the territory of Russia's former Soviet allies in the Baltic Region and Central Asia, Moscow strongly opposes Georgia and Ukraine's drive to join the Western military alliance, saying the prospect threatens the security of the Russian Federation.