‘Agile Spirit’: NATO military exercises kick off in Georgia

Georgian servicemen attend an opening ceremony for the military exercise Agile Spirit 2015 in Vaziani, Georgia, July 8, 2015. (Reuters / David Mdzinarishvili)
A multinational NATO military training “Agile Spirit 2015” has officially started in Georgia, uniting military personnel from six countries. It comes amid Russia’s mounting concerns over NATO’s military buildup in the region.

The US, Bulgarian, Romanian, Lithuanian and Latvian military will accompany Georgia’s Battalion 42 in the two-week-long military exercises that officially started on Wednesday, RIA-Novosti reported.

The annual joint training, that first started in 2011, this year involves 220 US Marine Corps servicemen. It is to take place at the Vaziani military base, located some 25 kilometers away from Tbilisi. Vaziani is a former Soviet and Russian air force base until Russian forces withdrew in 2001 under a European conventional arms reduction agreement.

The exercise follows the line of the Wales summit in September 2014, where the alliance agreed upon founding a NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center within the framework of the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, introduced back then by allied leaders.

In an opening speech on Wednesday, major-General Kapanadze said that “Georgian soldiers took part in many international operations and are continuing to contribute to global peace alongside our partners,” Agenda website reported.

“Our cooperation is more than just a partnership – it is brotherhood of arms,” Kapanadze added.

“These military exercises in Georgia – a country that launched an unprovoked attack on South Ossetia in 2008,which led to the death of 12 Russian peacekeepers and a brief military conflict between Georgia and Russia – are the latest in a series of alarming moves by NATO that underscore the organization's threatening stance towards Russia,” journalist Robert Bridge told RT.

READ MORE: NATO to boost special defense forces to 40,000 – Stoltenberg

The Russian Foreign ministry has long been criticizing the military buildup in the neighboring states, which goes “under the false pretext of alleged 'aggressive behavior' by our country” and is accompanied by “unfriendly and malicious” rhetoric.

“We are not threatening anyone and we seek to resolve all conflict situations through political means, with respect towards the international law and other nations’ interests,” President Putin said in June, underlying though that Russia needs strong, modern and adequately armed military force to face the challenges “that we cannot ignore”.

Georgia, an active contributor to alliance’s operations, has long planned to join NATO. In 1994, the former Soviet republic joined the Partnership for Peace program. After the “Rose Revolution” in 2003, the bilateral cooperation only “deepened”, according to a NATO statement.

“I don't think there is any realistic chance of Georgia joining NATO in the coming years. In fact, it is more likely that Georgia will increasingly thaw relations with Moscow, for economic reasons, as the penny drops in Tbilisi that the West was good at false promises, but not delivering actual help,” journalist Bryan MacDonald told RT.

In August 2008, a brief military conflict between Russia and Georgia broke out, after Tbilisi launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia prompting Moscow’s peace enforcement operation. It ended up in Russian official recognition of the two former Georgian autonomous republic s as independent states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.