Russia to hold military exercise before Obama arrival

“Kavkaz-2009” – a military exercise of a scale comparable to those in the Soviet era begins on Monday in Southern Russia. It will run until July 6, when US President Barack Obama arrives in Moscow.

More than 8,500 soldiers, 200 tanks, 450 armoured vehicles and 250 artillery cannons will take part in the war games.

Head of the General Staff General Nikolay Makarov will supervise the exercise that will take place in the Krasnodar, Stavropol, Astrakhan, Volgograd, Rostov regions, as well as the Russian republics of North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Chechnya.

According to military officials the purpose of the war games is to “test the real combat readiness and mobility of the Southwestern division of Russia’s Army.”

“Russia’s military exercise, as we see it chronologically, is a kind of response. We do it in order to increase the country’s defense capacity in the most threatening directions.”

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s NATO envoy (Interfax)

The experience gained during the August conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia will be used in the exercises, in which Russian bases #4 and #7 located in South Ossetia and Abkhazia will also take part, as will the armies of the two independent republics.

South Ossetia’s Defence Minister Yury Tanaev called the exercises exceptionally helpful.

“We will continue to conduct joint events that are benefiting the security of the whole region. We are interested in making the region more secure,” Tanaev said.

Kavkaz-2009 is just one in a series of massive military exercises planned in Russia in 2009. Some 13,000 soldiers are planning to take part in September’s “Zapad-2009” exercise in Belarus. Experts are comparing the 2009 military exercises to the Soviet era ones.

Potential source of tensions

Meanwhile, Georgia’s Foreign Ministry has protested the exercise as one “threatening the peace”.

According to the vice-speaker of Georgian Parliament Paata Davitaya, “the war games are conducted on occupied territories with provocative intentions.”

”We don’t welcome the exercise. However, Tbilisi has nothing to worry about.”

Spencer Oliver, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Secretary General (Tass)

Numerous Western media outlets like The Times or Washington Post are also viewing the exercise as a possible prologue to another chapter of Russian-Georgian confrontation.

As Kavkaz-2009 comes less than a month after controversial NATO-led military exercises in Georgia that were condemned by Moscow, it is bound to be viewed as a response to the latter.

However, some see a possible salvation from possible hostilities with the visit of US President Obama in Moscow on the last day of the war games.

In a New York Times opinion article about the exercises, three former US diplomats called on the US to make moves to prevent a repeat of the August conflict.

In their view, Obama “should offer to engage Moscow in a broad security dialogue on regional security, NATO and the OSCE in which mutual interests and intentions could be clarified and potential disputes averted.”

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