TIME georgia

The U.S. Will Help Georgia Join NATO in Face of Putin’s ‘Dangerous Actions’

Georgia's Defence Minister Alasania and U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi
Georgia's Defence Minister Irakly Alasania (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attend an official welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi on September 7, 2014. David Mdzinarishvili —Reuters

The Kremlin's incursions in Ukraine have brought the U.S. and Georgia "closer together,” says Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Georgia over the weekend to beef up military ties and help the country join NATO.

Hagel’s visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, follows on the heels of the NATO summit in the U.K. last week, where Georgia was made a “NATO enhanced-opportunities partner,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement.

At a press conference in the Georgian capital on Sunday, Hagel said the country’s new standing will allow for more participation in more joint training exercises with NATO and boost cooperation.

“The deepening ties between NATO and Georgia are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions of President Putin,” said Hagel.

During a round of talks with the Georgian Minister of Defense, Irakli Alasania, Hagel also laid down conditions that would pave the way for the sale of Blackhawk choppers to Georgia.

The Secretary of Defense’s arrival in Georgia comes days after a tenuous cease-fire was signed in Belarus between Kiev and pro-Kremlin rebels fighting in southeastern Ukraine.

The U.S. has repeatedly accused Moscow of sending armored columns into Ukraine to reinforce the rebels, forcing the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe to close ranks.

“Russia’s actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously,” said Hagel. “But President Putin’s actions have also brought the United States and our friends in Europe, including Georgia, closer together.”

During a joint press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian Defense Minister warned that his country’s experience with Russia led to concerns that the Ukraine cease-fire would not last.

“We have bitter experience in Georgia trusting Russian cease-fires, so we better prepare for the contingencies,” Alasania told reporters.

In 2008, Georgian forces were routed during a five-day war against Russia — resulting in what Tbilisi says is the continued military occupation of the separatist territory of South Ossetia by Moscow.

While the uneasy truce appears to be largely holding in Ukraine, there were reports of scattered fighting in the war-weary southeast over the weekend.

TIME Eastern Europe

NATO Warns Russia Against ‘Historic Mistake’

A masked member of the Ukrainian special forces stands guard outside the regional administration building in Kharkiv, April 8, 2014. Olga Ivashchenko—Reuters

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Moscow that any further escalation in Ukraine would have "dire consequences"

NATO is warning Russia that any further intervention in Ukraine would be a “historic mistake” and has urged Moscow to pull back the tens of thousands of troops currently amassed on Ukraine’s southern and eastern borders.

“I urge Russia to step back and not escalate the situation in east Ukraine,” said Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Paris during a seminar on NATO reform, according to the BBC.

Hundreds of pro-Russia demonstrators seized and barricaded themselves inside government buildings in the east Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk on Sunday night, chanting “Russia! Russia!” and calling for “peacekeepers” to be sent in from across the frontier.

However, 56 people left a state security service building seized by pro-Russia activists in Luhansk overnight, the nation’s state security service (SBU) said early Wednesday.

A truce was agreed following negotiations between protesters and officials, and comes after the SBU accused those inside of wiring the building with explosives and holding 60 people hostage, charges denied by the protesters.

Demonstrators are demanding a referendum to facilitate the secession of eastern provinces from Ukraine to join Russia, in a similar vein to what recently took place in Crimea.

On Tuesday, a brawl erupted inside the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev after a Communist leader accused nationalists of adopting extreme tactics and so playing into the hands of Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is refusing to recognize the authorities in Kiev that took power after pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted following months of street protests.

Yanukovych fled Kiev for Russia in February after more than 100 people died in unrest triggered initially by his refusal to sign an tariff agreement with the E.U. and to instead pursue closer ties with Russia.

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