Magazine article Newsweek

Russia's Nervous Neighbors

Magazine article Newsweek

Russia's Nervous Neighbors

Article excerpt

Byline: John Barry

Since Russia's rout of the Georgian armed forces in August, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has suggested that Washington secretly provoked the conflict. But the Americans wanted no such thing, according to Lt. Col. Robert Hamilton, who ran the U.S. military training program in Georgia until six weeks ago. (He's now on a year's fellowship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.) "At no time did the U.S. attempt to train or equip the Georgian armed forces for a conflict with Russia," he says. "In fact, the U.S. deliberately avoided training capabilities [that] were seen as too provocative" to Russia. That's one reason Georgia's troops crumpled so fast--precisely because their training didn't cover conventional-warfare topics like tanks, artillery and helicopters.

America's military involvement in Georgia began with a mission that was supposed to reduce Moscow's jitters. The Russians were complaining that Chechen rebels with suspected ties to Al Qaeda were holed up in Georgia's Pankesi Gorge. In 2002 the Pentagon stepped in, training and equipping Georgia's ragtag Army to clear out the unwelcome guests. After that mission ended in 2004, Georgia joined the Coalition in Iraq, and the training's focus shifted to counterinsurgency and peacekeeping duties.

Now U.S. military planners are facing two questions. Should America help rebuild Georgia's armed forces? And if so, should the focus be on combating a Russian threat? …

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