Thousands of NATO troops are taking part in large-scale military drills in Georgia, as relations between Moscow and the US-led military alliance continue to be strained.
Georgia started hosting the two-week war games on Wednesday, with more than 3,000 troops from 13 countries — including the US, France, Germany, the UK, and Turkey — at the Vasiani and Camp Norio training centers near the capital, Tbilisi.
“The scenario of the combined multinational exercise includes command and field training with live fire, engagement of maneuver and combat support elements in defensive and offensive operation,” Georgia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The drills are “yet another proof of the growing support which Georgia has from its strategic partners, NATO’s member states,” it added.
This year marks the fourth time Georgia has hosted the drills — known as the Noble Partner exercises — and comes just a few days before the 10th anniversary of its war with Russia.
The two neighbors fought a war in August 2008 over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. Moscow continues to garrison troops there and supports another separatist region, Abkhazia, recognizing both regions’ independent status.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the drills, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili accused Russia of occupying part of his country.
“Today, you are standing on the territory of a country 20 percent of which is absolutely illegally occupied by our neighbor Russia. But you are standing on the soil of the country whose soldiers are standing next to you and who will peacefully restore the territorial integrity of this country,” he said.
Russian officials have yet to comment on the drills, but in previous years, Moscow had warned that the war games could destabilize the region, a charge denied by Georgian officials.
Russia is also conducting its own military exercises simultaneously in the North Caucasus region, which borders Georgia. The Russian drills kicked off on August 1 and are set to continue until August 15.
Georgia, a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, is not a member of NATO but contributes to the NATO Response Force (NRF).
Russia is generally unsettled by NATO’s move eastward, considering it a threat to its security.
In recent years, NATO has staged multiple war games near Russia’s western borders, arguing that it intends to protect its members in Eastern Europe against the so-called “Russia threat.” Moscow dismisses the allegations that it poses a threat to regional countries and says the US-led bloc is creating Russophobia.