BRUSSELS (Reuters)–NATO said on Wednesday it would hold military exercises next month in Georgia, a former Soviet republic facing renewed turbulence as demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili entered their seventh day.
No immediate comment was available from Russia, which considers Georgia part of its traditional sphere of influence. Russia intervened in Georgia to defeat an attempt by its pro-Western leadership to retake the breakaway South Ossetia region. Moscow says it acted last August in its role as a regional peacekeeper to protect South Ossetia.
NATO’s announcement of the exercises, which will involve 1,300 troops from 19 countries, comes at a time when it is seeking to rebuild ties with Russia damaged as a result of Moscow’s intervention in Georgia.
An alliance statement said planning for the May 6-June 1 exercises began early last year, months before the war in Georgia.
NATO said the exercises would be held 20 km (12 miles) east of the Georgian capital Tbilisi and were aimed at improving coordination between NATO members and their partner countries.
“The scenario is based on a fictitious United Nations mandated, NATO-led crisis response operation,” it said.
The announcement that NATO will be conducting war games in Georgia came on the seventh day of mass demonstrations in Georgia calling for the resignation of President Saakashvili. Georgian news agencies reported Wednesday that Georgia’s opposition alliance had announced it would expand the demonstrations beyond the capital of Tbilisi by mobilizing and organizing the provincial regions.