Philippine Daily Inquirer - - WORLD - —AFP

VAZIANI— Ge­or­gia and the United States on Sun­day launched their big­gest ever joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises in the lat­est show of sup­port for the tiny Caucasus na­tion that has squared off against Rus­sia.

The start of the drills comes a day ahead of a two-day visit to Tbil­isi by US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence dur­ing which he is ex­pected to re­it­er­ate Wash­ing­ton’s back­ing for Ge­or­gia’s wish to join the North At­lantic Treaty Or­gan­za­tion (Nato).

Some 800 Ge­or­gian and 1600 US troops are tak­ing part in the No­ble Part­ner 2017 drills—the largest ever in the Caucasus na­tion since it fought a brief war with Rus­sia in 2008.

Ge­or­gia’s De­fense Min­is­ter Le­van Izo­ria called the scale of ex­er­cises “un­prece­dented,” in­sist­ing that they will “make clear the sup­port for Ge­or­gia by the Nato mem­ber states, es­pe­cially the US.”

US re­sponse

The United States has sent some of its M1A2 Abrams main bat­tle tanks and M2 Bradley in­fantry fight­ing ve­hi­cles across the Black Sea for the drills, which will last un­til Aug. 12.

The ex­er­cises will also in­clude 400 ser­vice­men from Ar­me­nia, Ger­many, Slove­nia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United King­dom.

Ge­or­gia’s bid to join Nato has an­gered its Soviet-era master Rus­sia and the con­fronta­tion cul­mi­nated in a brief war over the Mos­cow-backed sep­a­ratist re­gion of South Os­se­tia.

Af­ter the war that saw Ge­or­gia’s small mil­i­tary routed in just five days, Mos­cow rec­og­nized South Os­se­tia and an­other break­away prov­ince Abk­hazia as in­de­pen­dent states and moved in thou­sands of troops.

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