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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Warns on Arming Georgia

APVice President Joe Biden walking with President Mikheil Saakashvili in the presidential palace in Tbilisi on Thursday.
A senior Russian diplomat warned foreign countries on Thursday against supplying Russian- or Soviet-made arms to Georgia at the risk of endangering military trade with Moscow.

The warning shot was fired as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden held closed-doors talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that were expected to include a Georgian request for assistance with military hardware.

“We are deeply concerned by the activity of the Georgian leadership to remilitarize the country, which some states are responding to in a surprisingly calm and even positive way,” Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said, Itar-Tass reported.

Karasin said Moscow would consider limiting or severing military technical cooperation with any third country that delivered Russian- or Soviet-made arms and other defense equipment to Georgia.

Military technical cooperation is a bureaucratic euphemism for the export of arms, defense equipment and spare parts and for providing maintenance and repairs for previously supplied arms.

Countries that have supplied such arms to Georgia include the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan and Ukraine, which Biden visited before arriving in Georgia as part of a weeklong tour aimed at assuring both countries that they had nothing to fear from Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Moscow.

Karasin on Thursday mentioned a January decree signed by President Dmitry Medvedev that bans the delivery of arms and military equipment to Georgia until the end of 2011. The decree, however, applies only to Russian companies and individuals.

Karasin also accused certain countries, which he would not name, of disguising the arming of Georgia as humanitarian aid — in an apparent rebuke to the United States, which has provided $1 billion in aid to Georgia after Russia crushed the Georgian military in a five-day war last August.

David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters
Biden meeting with refugees from South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Thursday.

Karasin added that Russia expected Georgian provocations to commemorate the anniversary of the conflict, after which Moscow recognized the independence of the separatist Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and posted thousands of troops on their territories. Karasin said, however, that Moscow did not expect military provocations but political ones.

As a possible example of a political provocation, Georgian media on Wednesday reported a months-old mutual expulsion of diplomats that both countries had agreed to keep secret. The Foreign Ministry has accused Tbilisi of leaking the incident in an attempt to impress Biden.

Biden said Thursday that the reset of U.S.-Russia relations would not come at the expense of Georgia and that the United States would never recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Russian threat of cutting military technical cooperation is of no concern to the United States, which does not provide Russian-made arms to Georgia or help maintain the country’s existing equipment, said Dmitry Vasiliyev, a researcher who tracks arms sales with the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

Georgia received tens of thousands of Kalashnikov rifles, thousands of Soviet-designed missile systems and dozens of battle tanks from Ukraine in 2006 and 2007 alone, according to a special United Nations registry. Smaller deliveries of Soviet-made arms or dual-use equipment have come from the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and Uzbekistan. “Russia cannot punish these four countries by cutting military trade with them because there is no meaningful trade,” Vasiliyev said of the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and Uzbekistan.

As for Ukraine, sanctions would harm Russia’s own interests because Ukraine provides about half of all engines for helicopters that are among Russia’s most sought-after arms exports, he said.

Other countries that have supplied military equipment to Georgia are the United States, Israel, Turkey, Greece and Bosnia Herzegovina, according to a United Nations’ registry.

There have been no official disclosures about Georgia’s arms imports and no media reports about foreign countries delivering arms to Georgia following the war with Russia.

Saakashvili expressed an interest in U.S. arms ahead of his talks with Biden. The Georgian Defense Ministry said it was seeking defensive weapons but would not say how much military aid was being sought, citing secrecy, The Associated Press reported.

But a U.S. official said after the talks that Saakashvili had not asked for advanced U.S. weaponry, AP reported.

Saakashvili told reporters that his discussions with Biden, to whom he referred as “Joe,” had been “very productive.” Biden responded by calling Saakashvili, a U.S.-educated lawyer, “Mr. President.”

Biden also met with Georgian opposition leaders and refugees from South Ossetia and Abkhazia and addressed the Georgian parliament Thursday.