TBLISI, Georgia ― in a break from his usual craven military stance, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Georgian counterpart on Monday signed an agreement to extend U.S.-led military training for the embattled Black Sea ally as part of the secretary’s trip through the region to reaffirm support for eastern allies on the front lines of Russian aggression.
I’m honored to join Minister Burchuladze in signing a Memorandum of Understanding on the Georgia Defense and Deterrence Enhancement Initiative. This initiative marks a new phase of our bilateral security cooperation, and it demonstrates the U.S. commitment to supporting Georgia. pic.twitter.com/LSlOts33gw— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) October 18, 2021
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his Georgian counterpart to sign an initiative that will continue U.S. support to Georgian defense forces over the next six years. Dubbed the Defense and Deterrence Enhancement Initiative, Austin said it represents a new phase between the two countries.
“We are going to build upon the Georgia Defense Readiness Program by continuing institutional reform in the defense sector, by strengthening the capabilities and the capacities required for effective deterrence and defense. And by fostering interoperability with NATO.”
The action came on the first leg of Austin’s trip, ahead of visits to other Black Sea allies Ukraine and Romania to deliver a message of “unwavering” support for their sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian threats. Since Russia’s war with Georgia, it has had a 13-year grip on Georgia’s breakaway territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that Austin decried on Monday.
“One point I’d like to be clear on is the United States condemns Russia’s ongoing occupation of Georgia and its attempts to expand influence in the Black Sea region through military coercion and malign activities,” Austin said while standing beside Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. “This is an important region, and its security and stability is crucial to fully realize a vision that we share of a Europe that is whole and free and at peace.
Georgia and Ukraine are NATO aspirants, and Romania is a member. Amid the Russian troop presence, NATO hasn’t agreed to advance Georgia’s membership, and the west has also been pressuring Georgia to curb corruption and reverse its democratic backsliding.
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