Republican Congressman, Chris Smith, who is a chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said that “Russia should cancel” its planned large-scale military exercises Kavkaz-2012.
“To hold large-scale military exercises on occupied Georgian territory is a crude intimidation stunt,” Congressman Smith said in a statement on August 2. “The Russian Government should cancel these exercises – which are contrary to the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states enshrined in the OSCE’s Helsinki Accords. In any case, the fact that the Russian Government can even contemplate holding such exercises shows that the U.S. should strengthen its engagement and support of Georgia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.”
According to the Russian Defense Ministry strategic command and staff military exercises, Kavkaz-2012, are planned for September 17-23 in southern Russia with participation of various army units, as well as units from Federal Security Service, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Emergency Situations.
The Russian navy ships from Black Sea and northern fleets will also be involved, according to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander, Rear Adm. Alexander Fedotenkov.
Three amphibious assault ships – the Alexander Otrakovsky, the Georgy Pobedonosets and the Kondopoga, which are part of Russia’s Northern Fleet, currently in the Mediterranean, plan to arrive on August 11 and on August 12 in Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, the Russian Ministry of Defense said on July 31.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, said in April that “participation of Russian military units or military bases deployed abroad as well as militaries of foreign countries” was not planned in the drills.
Army Gen. Nikolay Makarov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said in May that the troops involved in the drills would undergo “practical training” at firing ranges located in Russia’s Southern Military District, in particular at Prudboy in Volgograd; Kapustin Yar missile testing site and Ashuluk both in Astrakhan Oblast and Rayevskoye in Novorossiysk of the Krasnodar Krai.
Officials in Tbilisi are worried about the planned large scale exercises fearing that Russia might be trying to increase tensions in the region and deploy forces that can be used to attack Georgia just like in 2008; Russia held large-scale military maneuvers Kavkaz-2008 less than a month before the August war in 2008. Georgian Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, said in an interview with Civil.ge in late June that after 2008 drills the military units were kept deployed in the field and used in military operations against Georgia.
“Similar danger exists this year, that the troops mobilized ostensibly for the drills will be used for aggressive purposes against Georgia,” he said.
Congressman Smith notes in his statement that the dates of the Kavkaz-2012 exercises – September 17-23 – is little more than one week before parliamentary elections in Georgia planned for October 1.
President Saakashvili said for number of times in recent months that the drills were timed by Russia deliberately to coincide with Georgia’s parliamentary elections.
“It is not a coincidence that our neighbor scheduled its large-scale military exercises for second half of September, just several days before elections [in Georgia]. This timing is really not a coincidence,” Saakashvili said in March. “All the efforts will be undertaken to discredit these elections – on the one hand to intimidate Georgians through use of force and on the other hand to bribe Georgian voters with money from that very same country [Russia].”
During her visit to Georgia on June 5, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked at a news conference about “concerns in Georgia” over Russia’s planned military exercise in North Caucasus; the question was asked in the context of upcoming elections.
“Yes, there will be military maneuvers, but the really important events in the fall will occur inside Georgia as the people of Georgia cast their votes," Clinton said. "I cannot think of a stronger message that could be sent to anyone, anywhere in the world than that. So we will clearly continue to consult closely with the Georgian government to ensure that we are standing with you, but the most critical event is not another country’s military exercises, it is Georgia’s elections and that will speak louder than any military exercise could ever do about what Georgians stand for, your resilience, your strength, your commitment to democracy.”