· An Aug. 28 A-section article about aid to Georgia incorrectly said that a U.S. military ship dropped off the first shipment on Aug. 27. A shipment arrived Aug. 24.
U.S. Military Ship Delivers Aid to Georgia
Thursday, August 28, 2008
TBILISI, Georgia, Aug. 27 -- A U.S. military ship dropped off the first sea shipment of aid at a Georgian port Wednesday, avoiding one that remains under Russian control.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas dropped off 76,000 pounds of supplies in Batumi, in southern Georgia. The delivery was initially scheduled to be made at the Black Sea port of Poti, a town in undisputed Georgian territory where Russian soldiers are stationed and the Russian military sank two ships this month, Georgian officials said.
The ship arrived as Georgia downgraded its diplomatic relations with Russia, a day after Russia officially recognized Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. The diplomatic moves came nearly three weeks after Georgia and Russia went to war over South Ossetia.
The secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, Alexander Lomaia, said relations could be completely cut by the end of the week. On Wednesday, Georgia gave the Russian ambassador 10 days to leave the country and announced it would reduce its diplomatic staff in Moscow to two people, he said. Georgia recalled its ambassador to Russia in July.
Georgian officials also announced Wednesday that South Ossetian authorities had released 85 Georgian civilians who had been held in the territory's capital, Tskhinvali. At least 12 Georgian servicemen are still being held by Russia since their arrest in Poti on Aug. 20, Lomaia said, adding that their detention went against an agreement to exchange prisoners of war.
Georgia's first deputy defense minister, Batu Kutelia, said the Georgian government had advised the United States against sending a ship to Poti because of damage there. Lomaia added that the United States had consulted with Georgia and switched the ship's destination in order "not to fuel the tensions" with Russia.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman said the boat had changed its destination, then retracted that statement, the Associated Press reported. The embassy would not comment on the retraction.
"We don't forecast the ports our ships are going to be pulling into," said Cmdr. Scott Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet, in Naples. "Throughout the mission, we've been considering all our options."
Georgia's prime minister said Wednesday that the war had caused about $1 billion in damage.
As the Dallas delivered its supplies, a squadron of Russian warships led by the missile cruiser Moskva arrived at the Abkhaz port of Sukhumi to the north, the Interfax news agency reported.
"The ships are performing duties on maintaining peace and stability in Abkhazia and in the republic's territorial waters," Vice Adm. Sergei Menyailo was quoted as saying. "Among the duties we are performing is control over Abkhazia's territorial waters and the prevention of the trafficking in arms. We are also carrying out a humanitarian mission."
A U.S. naval command ship is scheduled to arrive later this month with more supplies, and Navy transport planes have been flying daily airlifts into Tbilisi, Georgia's capital.