U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reaffirmed a “close defense partnership” between the U.S. and Georgia during a recent visit to Tbilisi. Speaking in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine, Secretary Hagel reiterated U.S. support for Georgian membership in NATO. He also pledged a substantial U.S. contribution to a NATO-endorsed package of measures aimed at augmenting Georgia’s security:
“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important, given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin. His illegal annexation of Crimea, which the United States does not recognize, and the ongoing military campaign Russia is mounting in eastern Ukraine pose a grave threat to regional stability.”
The new package will include expanded defense capacity-building efforts, more joint training exercises, strengthened liaison and enhanced interoperability capabilities. Georgia was one of five nations to achieve the new elevated status of NATO enhanced opportunities partners, announced during the recent NATO summit in Wales.
Secretary Hagel lauded Georgia for its contributions in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, noting that the bilateral partnership forged with the U.S. over ten years of fighting side by side will also continue. The U.S. intends to further bilateral capacity-building efforts with Georgia, and Secretary Hagel noted that he and Georgian Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania, had discussed the sale of U.S. helicopters during the visit.
The United States continues to call on Russia to fully withdraw its forces from Georgia's borders.
“Russia's actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Secretary Hagel. “But President Putin's actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”
Secretary Hagel noted that the U.S. and Georgia will also work together to counter the growing threat of violent extremism.
“This is a galvanizing moment for NATO and our partners,” he said. “It is now up to all of us to send a clear message of strength, of unity, and resolve, and back up that message.”