Rus­sians pil­fered U.S. equip­ment in Ge­or­gia

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - BY BILL GERTZ

Rus­sian forces seized U.S. mil­i­tary equip­ment dur­ing the re­cent fight­ing in Ge­or­gia in ad­di­tion to five ve­hi­cles whose cap­ture was re­ported ear­lier, the Pen­tagon said Sept. 8.

Pen­tagon spokesman Bryan Whit­man said Rus­sian troops broke open two large ship­ping con­tain­ers in the Ge­or­gian port of Poti and “pil­fered” the con­tents. Sen­si­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions and elec­tron­ics equip­ment used by U.S. forces dur­ing a joint U.S.-Ge­or­gia mil­i­tary ex­er­cise prior to the Aug. 8 in­cur­sion had al­ready been shipped out of the port, he added.

One of the con­tain­ers be­longed to the Marines, which also lost five Humvees to the Rus­sians. Mr. Whit­man said he did not know who owned the other con­tainer.

The Rus­sian news­pa­per Izves­tia re­ported that the cap­tured equip­ment in­cluded Global Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tem equip­ment used in weapons tar­get­ing, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, friend-or-foe elec­tronic gear and classified ra­dio and re­con­nais­sance equip­ment.

A spokesman for the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, Evgeny Kho­risko, said he had no knowl­edge of such equip­ment be­ing seized or con­tain­ers be­ing opened. “I only know about the Humvees,” Mr. Kho­risko said.

Mr. Whit­man in­sisted that high­in­tel­li­gence-value equip­ment had not been com­pro­mised, while at the same time ac­knowl­edg­ing he did not know ex­actly what the Rus­sians now had in their pos­ses­sion.

“We can’t tell what was in them, and we’re still do­ing an as­sess­ment, but none of them had sen­si­tive items in them,” he said. The dis­clo­sure came as the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced that it was pulling from Congress an agree­ment with Rus­sia for peace­ful co­op­er­a­tion in the civil­ian nu­clear field.

“We make this de­ci­sion with re­gret,” Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice said in a state­ment. “Un­for­tu­nately, given the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment, the time is not right for this agree­ment.”

Rus­sia re­acted with am­biva­lence. The In­ter­fax news agency quoted a For­eign Min­istry of­fi­cial as say­ing, “Such a step is re­gret­table,” but “Rus­sia does not need civil­ian nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion with the United States more than [Wash­ing­ton].”

The Pen­tagon has also an­nounced a re­view of U.S.-Rus­sia mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion and promised Ge­or­gia $1 bil­lion in eco­nomic aid and an un- spec­i­fied amount of mil­i­tary help.

The U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand will soon con­duct a ma­jor se­cu­rity as­sess­ment of Ge­or­gia to de­ter­mine what U.S. weapons and train­ing will be sent to the for­mer Soviet repub­lic as part of in­creased U.S. aid, Mr. Whit­man said.

“In the days to come, we’ll start do­ing a se­cu­rity as­sess­ment in terms of what Ge­or­gia needs in terms of its in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity,” he said.

While Mr. Whit­man said he could not iden­tify what was in the seized con­tain­ers, of­fi­cials at the Euro­pean Com­mand, which was in charge of the mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, said they sus­pected that the equip­ment was crew gear.

The equip­ment and Humvees were sent to Ge­or­gia in July as part of a month­long mil­i­tary-train­ing ex­er­cise with U.S. and Ge­or­gian forces and was be­ing re­turned through the port of Poti when the Rus­sians seized it Aug. 19. The ve­hi­cles and equip­ment were be­ing shipped back to the United States fol­low­ing the ex­er­cise, which in­volved about 1,000 U.S. sol- diers and 600 Ge­or­gian troops.

Mr. Whit­man said Rus­sia has not re­sponded to a U.S. diplo­matic protest made two weeks ear­lier de­mand­ing that the equip­ment and five Marine Corps Humvees be re­turned. “We’ve seen no pos­i­tive re­sponse to the demarche,” he said.

“We are try­ing to de­ter­mine what equip­ment was taken and un­der what con­di­tions and how to get it back,” said a U.S. de­fense of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. “We know about the Humvees. All the other equip­ment was left over from the ex­er­cise that had taken place. We don’t think it was ex­ten­sive. Some had al­ready left the coun­try.”

Marine Corps Com­man­dant Gen. James T. Con­way told re­porters Aug. 27 that four of the Humvees were con­ven­tional ve­hi­cles and one was an ar­mored ve­hi­cle.

“None of those had any­thing like se­cret satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions; in fact, no ra­dios at all,” Gen. Con­way said. “They had ra­dio mounts only [. . . ] that’s tra­di­tion­ally how we ship.”

Gen. Con­way said, “I think we’re go­ing to send the Rus­sians a bill and tell them, you know, ei­ther pay up or give us back our ve­hi­cles, guys. You know, that’s not the way we do busi­ness.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

DE­LIV­ERY: The USS Mount Whit­ney un­loads aid in Poti, Ge­or­gia, on Sept. 6. Rus­sian forces that in­vaded Ge­or­gia seized more than just U.S. Humvees.

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