U.S. Warship Arrives With Aid

APGeorgian sunbathers relaxing Sunday on a beach near the USS McFaul, anchored in the harbor of Batumi.
ABOARD THE USS MCFAUL -- A U.S. Navy destroyer loaded with humanitarian aid has reached Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi, bringing baby food, bottled water and a message of support for an embattled ally.

Before the warship arrived Sunday, a Russian general suggested that U.S. ships moving across the Black Sea would worsen tensions already driven to a post-Cold War high by a short but intense war between Russia and Georgia.

"The population of Georgia will feel more safe from today from the Russian aggression," Georgian Defense Minister David Kezerashvili said on the aft missile deck of the McFaul after greeting U.S. Navy officers in crisp white uniforms on shore.

"They will feel safe not because the destroyer is here but because they will feel they are not alone facing the Russian aggression," he added.

Local children offered the Americans wine and flowers.

The guided missile cruiser USS McFaul, carrying about 55 tons of humanitarian aid, is the first of three U.S. ships scheduled to arrive this week. It brought baby food, diapers, bottled water, milk and hygiene products.

Sailors in a chain on deck passed the supplies up from the hold to be lifted by a crane for transport to shore.

The commander of the U.S. task force carrying aid to Georgia by ship, Navy Captain John Moore, downplayed the significance of a destroyer bringing aid.

Bela Szandelszky / AP
U.S. sailors unloading humanitarian aid boxes on the USS McFaul's deck.

"We really are here on a humanitarian mission," he said.

The McFaul, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is outfitted with an array of weaponry, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, and a sophisticated radar system. For security reasons the Navy does not say whether ships are carrying nuclear weapons, but they usually do not.

The deputy chief of Russia's General Staff suggested that the arrival of U.S. and other NATO ships in the Black Sea would increase tensions. Russia shares the sea with NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria as well as Georgia and Ukraine, whose pro-Western presidents are leading drives for NATO membership.

"I don't think such a buildup will foster the stabilization of the atmosphere in the region," General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said Saturday, Itar-Tass reported.

A U.S. official said the U.S. ship anchored in Batumi, Georgia's main oil port on the Black Sea, because of concerns about damage to the Georgian port of Poti -- not because Poti is closer to Russian forces in Abkhazia and Georgia proper.

Russian troops still hold positions near Poti, and Georgian port officials say radar, Coast Guard ships and other port facilities were extensively damaged by Russian forces. AP journalists there have reported on Russians looting the area.

An AP television cameraman and his Georgian driver were treated roughly and briefly detained Sunday by Russian troops outside Poti as he shot video of Russian positions.