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US ‘indefinitely postpones’ annual joint military drills with Georgia

8 July 2024
Georgian soldiers marching in Tbilisi on Independence Day, 26 May 2024. Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The US has ‘indefinitely’ postponed its annual military drills with Georgia, as diplomatic tensions between the two countries over the controversial foreign agent law continue to mount.

On Friday, the US Department of Defence announced it would be postponing its annual Noble Partner training as part of a ‘comprehensive review of the United States–Georgia bilateral relationship’.

They cited the Georgian government’s ‘false accusations against the United States and Other Western entities’, and rhetoric used by the ruling Georgian Dream party and their allies that the West was pressuring Georgia to ‘open a second front against Russia to alleviate pressure on Ukraine, and of participating in two coup attempts against the ruling party’.

‘As such, the United States Government has determined that this is an inappropriate time to hold a large-scale military exercise in Georgia’.

The statement went on to stress that Washington would continue to partner with the Georgian army.

In May 2023, Georgia did not participate in the US-organised military exercise Defender 23 in Europe.

The postponement of the drills, which have been held annually in Georgia since 2015, is the latest diplomatic blow dealt by Washington to Tbilisi since the adoption of the foreign agent law.

Georgian troops rehearsing for the opening of Noble Partner drills in July 2017. Image via US Army.

In early June, Washington confirmed that it had sanctioned dozens of Georgian nationals for their role in adopting the controversial foreign agent law and cracking down on protests against the legislation.

While they have not announced a list of individuals sanctioned, media has since reported that several leading figures in the ruling party, including its parliamentary leader, Mamuka Mdinaradze, have had their US visas revoked.

[Read more: Ivanishvili ‘sends personal envoy’ to Washington amidst growing reports of sanctions against Georgian officials]

Georgian Dream has additionally accused the US of orchestrating coups in Georgia.

Georgia’s Defence Ministry on Friday decried the postponement of the drills as ‘regrettable’.

‘International exercises, including Noble Partner 2024, are beneficial for both Georgia and the United States of America and partner countries participating in it, as they contribute to the strengthening of defence capabilities, development of capabilities of military personnel, raising professionalism and increasing interoperability’.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze called the cancellation of the training ‘very bad’.

Speaking to journalists on Saturday, Defence Minister Irakli Chikovani said Washington’s decision was ‘incomprehensible’.

‘We do not understand the decision related to the postponement of the Nobel Partner for an indefinite period’, he said. ‘However, I would like to emphasise that we, the Ministry of Defense and the US Department of Defense, have a lot of cooperation formats where we work intensively and cooperate, and this cooperation will continue’.

Responding to Chikovani’s remarks, US Ambassador Robin Dunnigan told journalists on Saturday that the decision was not incomprehensible, citing State Secretary Antony Blinken’s statement that bilateral ties between the two countries were under review.

Georgia’s former Defence Minister, Juansher Burchuladze, criticised the cancellation of the drills, calling it a political decision by which military personnel should not be punished.

Mamuka Khazaradze, chair of the opposition Lelo party, said that Washington’s decision to cancel the training was the ‘result of what Georgian Dream brought to Georgia with its Russian policy’. 

As diplomatic and institutional rifts deepen between Georgia and the US, Armenia has confirmed that it will host a joint international peacekeeping training with the US armed forces in mid-July.

Read in Armenian on CivilNet.
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