BATUMI, Georgia - A U.S. Coast Guard ship carrying aid for victims
of Georgia's brief war with Russia arrived on the country's Black Sea
coast on Wednesday, but backed down from docking in a
The decision avoided any direct confrontation between U.S.
and Russian military in Georgia, a U.S. ally whose drive for
NATO membership had antagonised Moscow even before Tbilisi's
failed drive to retake a pro-Moscow rebel region this month.
The cutter Dallas docked in Batumi instead of Poti, a port
80 km (50 miles) to the north where Russian troops have been
manning checkpoints since pushing into Georgia proper this month
after a war over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Russia, which on Tuesday recognised the independence of
South Ossetia and a second Georgian rebel region, Abkhazia, has
defied Western pressure to remove its forces from Georgia.
Moscow has said its troops will continue to patrol Poti, a
small oil shipment and dry grain port outside a "buffer zone"
where Russia plans to post peacekeepers indefinitely.
The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi originally said the Dallas would
be joined in Poti by a U.S. warship, the USS McFaul, which
docked in Batumi on Sunday. But the embassy said late on Tuesday
that the plan had changed.
"This decision was taken at the highest level of the
Pentagon," a U.S. embassy spokeswoman told Reuters.
A U.S. Navy official said the U.S. guided-missile destroyer
McFaul had left the Black Sea port of Batumi and was "outside of
Georgian territorial waters."
"The McFaul is conducting operations in the Black Sea," the
official said. He declined to elaborate.
A third vessel, the Navy command ship USS Mount Whitney, has
also been loaded with aid supplies and has left its home port in
Italy, said U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Tamsen Reese.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has accused Washington of
delivering weapons to Georgia by sea, but made clear Russian
ships would not obstruct the operation.
"What the Americans call humanitarian cargoes -- of course,
they are bringing in weapons," he told the BBC in an interview
on Tuesday, adding: "We're not trying to prevent it."
A White House spokesman rejected Medvedev's accusations of
U.S. ships bringing in weapons as "ridiculous".
Nevertheless, the Russian military said on Wednesday it was
monitoring the increasing number of NATO warships operating in
the Black Sea.
"Given the build-up of NATO forces in the Black Sea area,
the (Russian Black Sea) fleet has also begun taking measures to
monitor their activity," Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the
Russian military's General Staff, told a news briefing.