Exercise Noble Partner is a reoccurring training event that takes place at Vaziani Training Area, Georgia. The exercise is the largest annual training event to bring together US and Georgian forces. It is scheduled to take place May 11 to 26.
On May 4, the US equipment arrived at the port of Poti. This is the first time ever the M1A2 Main Battle Tank has been deployed to Georgia as an illustration of US ability to project power around Russia's periphery.
The exercise includes approximately 500 Georgian, 150 United Kingdom and 650 US service members, incorporating a full range of equipment, including US M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, M119 Light Towed Howitzers and several wheeled support vehicles. Participating US forces are elements of NATO Response Force.
Alongside US forces, Georgian servicemen will operate their T-72 Main Battle Tanks, BMP-2 Infantry Combat Vehicles and several wheeled-support vehicles.
The exercise emphasizes the ability of NATO to demonstrate power projection. It is also a critical part of Georgia's training for its contribution of a light infantry company to the NATO Response Force (NRF). Georgia is not a member of NATO. It voluntarily contributes to the NRF. The US acts as the sponsor of Georgia's participation in the force.
«This is a confirmation of the relationship between the US and Georgian Armed Forces and the strategic relationship between our countries. Euro-Atlantic cooperation between Georgia and the United States today is stronger than it has even been», said Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, US Commanding General, Army Europe.
Giorgi Margvelashvili, Georgian President and the High Commander of the Georgian Armed Forces, chimed in, saying «These exercises will advance the Georgian armed forces and the Georgian people’s purpose – to integrate with NATO».
Russia has strongly condemned the provocative military activities near its border. «We regard this ongoing «exploration» of Georgia’s territory by NATO forces as a provocative step aimed at escalating the military and political situation in the South Caucasus. To a large extent, this is encouraged by Washington’s and its allies’ open connivance at Tbilisi’s revanchist ambitions», Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Ministry mentions the statement of David Usupashvili, Georgian parliament speaker. On the very same day the US equipment arrived in Poti, he said that «while part of the country’s territory is occupied, the mission of the Georgian armed forces remains unfulfilled». The speaker noted that the key to fulfilling the mission is not only «the heroism of Georgian soldiers and officers» but also assistance from NATO member-states.
The exercise is not an isolated event but a part of a broader picture.
Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania may expand NATO's maritime presence in the Black Sea. NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow confirmed this information speaking at a Conference on Black Sea Security, Sofia, Bulgaria in late April. «We need to consider a more persistent NATO military presence in the region, with a particular focus on our maritime capabilities», he said. Ukraine and Georgia may be invited to join the NATO standing force.
It makes remember the US Navy recruiting poster with a large-deck flattop and the caption: «90,000 Tons of Diplomacy». Romania has initiated a proposal to create a permanent NATO naval task force in the Black Sea and Bucharest intends to discuss its project during the July summit of the Alliance in Warsaw. Ankara has demonstrated an interest in enhancing maritime cooperation with its Black Sea neighbors. In early April, Turkish vessels visited Batumi (Georgia), Varna (Bulgaria), Constanta (Romania) and Odessa (Ukraine), and conducted exercises with the ships of the host nations as part of annual Deniz Yildizi (Sea Star) exercise.
Meanwhile, the US Marine Corps Black Sea Rotational Force maintains its presence close to Constanta in Romania (Mihail Kogălniceanu airbase). This country provides the US with a naval support facility in Deveselu. In April, the United State sent F-22 Raptor fighters to Romania.
The F-22s are almost impossible to detect on a radar and so advanced that the US Congress has banned Lockheed Martin from selling them abroad. Formally, it was part of the Rapid Response program showcasing how effectively and rapidly US warplanes and support can be moved to a forward operating base located near Russia.
The basing of the AEGIS Ashore missile defence system in Romania is also seen as a provocative step by Moscow. The system's Mk-41 launcher is capable of firing long-range cruise surface-to-surface missiles to strike targets deep inside Russia’s territory.
No doubt, all the provocative military activities mentioned above will make Russia take appropriate steps to deter the threat and introduce changes into its operational planning.
Some efforts to revive the Russia-NATO dialogue have been undertaken recently. In late April, the Russia-NATO Council held its first in two years meeting to address the problems of bilateral relationship. Russia and the United States launched negotiations on cybersecurity. The cooperation between Russia and the US in Syria has been producing positive results. All in all, it has offered a gleam of hope for European security. Conducting provocative military activities in the proximity to Russian borders is the way to dash the hopes. Exercise Noble Partner aggravates tensions, which are already running high on the continent. The hard efforts to restart the crucially important contacts may be in vain.