U.S. Boosts Aid To Georgia To "Resist Russian Aggression"
The United States would give Georgia a big boost in aid to help it "resist Russian aggression" under a budget proposal announced this week by the White House. But Washington is deemphasizing military aid to Georgia, and a huge increase in Pentagon funding for a greater U.S. military presence around Russia's borders dedicates relatively little to Tbilisi.
The U.S. plans to give Georgia $63 million in general Economic Support Fund money in fiscal year 2017, up from $38 million this year, according to State Department budget documents. That money "will support Georgia’s democratization, economic development, Euro-Atlantic integration, and resistance to Russian aggression" and will be "targeted towards enhancing energy security and economic opportunities for populations susceptible to Russian influence."
But that aid is mainly for civilian programs, and American military aid to Georgia is set to decrease under this proposal. Aid to Georgia marked as Foreign Military Financing, intended for military equipment, will decrease from $30 million this year to $20 million in fiscal year 2017. Next year's funding is intended "to advance Georgia’s development of forces capable of enhancing security, countering Russian aggression, and contributing to coalition operations. This will include support in areas such as upgrades to Georgia’s rotary wing air transport capabilities, advisory and defense reform, and modernization of Georgia’s military institutions."
Washington has proposed a big boost to the European Reassurance Initiative, a Pentagon program begun after the Ukraine crisis to build up the U.S. military presence around Russia's western border. Under the White House proposal, that program would get $3.4 billion in funding next fiscal year, up from $790 million this year. But relatively little seems to be dedicated to Georgia. The majority of that funding, $1.9 billion, will go toward prepositioning American materiel around various sites in Eastern Europe. But in spite of Tbilisi's lobbying to be included in that program, none of those sites are in Georgia.
There is a modest increase in Black Sea-regional Pentagon programs. Funding for increased U.S. naval presence in the Black, Baltic, and Mediterrannean Seas will stay steady at about $5 million next year. But the Marine Corps Black Sea Rotational Force, which sends U.S. Marines to Bulgaria and Romania, will see its funding rise from $11 million to $18 million under this proposal.
NATO also is discussing increasing its presence in the Black Sea. Alliance defense ministers gathered this week in Brussels and on the agenda, said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, was "increasing our presence in the eastern part of the alliance with more assurance measures meaning planes, air policing, naval presence in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, increased naval presence and also more boots on the ground with more exercises and troops."
Stoltenberg didn't provide many details, but Reuters reported that: "Initial discussions suggest NATO could have a brigade of up to 1,000 troops in each of the six former communist countries, once under Moscow's domination, that the alliance is looking to reinforce: Lithuanian, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. They will be backed by a rapid-reaction force that includes air, naval and special operations units of up to 40,000 personnel."
Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli, attending the meetings, offered her country's help in the Black Sea. "When [NATO has] two members and three partner states in the Black Sea area it is impossible to speak about establishing a new security system or format without the participation of the member and partner nations," she said. "Therefore our aim is for Georgia to play a significant role in any security system that will be offered by NATO for ensuring safety in the Black Sea area."
The response from Moscow was more dismissive than defensive. "NATO is trying to draw us into a state of Cold War by inflating the myth about the threat from the East and justifying the necessity to deter Russia," said Alexander Grushko, Moscow's ambassador to NATO.
"Territorially, it [NATO] will certainly build up its forces - in Turkey, in Bulgaria and in Romania," added Vladimir Komoyevov, a former Black Sea Fleet commander who now heads the Russian State Duma Defense Committee. While NATO may want to also increase its naval presence, due to legal restrictions on outside military forces on the sea, that will be limited. NATO's intention to increase its presence on the Black Sea "does not mean that 20, 30 or 50 warships are going to appear there," Komoyevov said.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.