Russia, US

Russia-US tensions intensify as Pence visits former Russian allies

US Vice president Mike Pence in Estonia.
US Vice president Mike Pence in Estonia. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

US Vice President Mike Pence is on a visit to Russia’s former allies, Estonia, Georgia and Montenegro, which are now closer to the West than ever to the dismay of Moscow. Pence also said that that Moscow cutting 755 American diplomatic staff in Russia will not lessen the US commitment to its allies.


Mike Pence continued his trip to Georgia and just the day before, The Georgian army began two weeks of military exercises its “Noble Partner” maneuvers, including about 2,800 soldiers from the United States, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, Armenia and Georgia, with Washington dispatching an entire mechanised company including several Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks.

Audio report

"These exercises will help Georgia to get closer to NATO standards and to strengthen stability in the whole region," Kvirikashvili said at the opening ceremony on Sunday.

“In principle the exercises in Georgia are not a threat to Russian security,” says Pavel Baev, a militairy expert with the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

“Georgia is not really in the position in any way to threaten Russia or even to try again to reclaim its lost provinces. I think the significance of the exercise is rather in reminding Russia that Georgia is not really a low hanging fruit in security terms.

“That Russia may contemplate where it might score another victory which might be necessary for Putin this autumn, because of his election campaign, because the previous victories becoming rather bitter now, he might need another score. And Georgia is the most attractive proposition when you are looking from Moscow.

Georgia's effort to join NATO began in 2005, but accession was complicated by its conflict with Russia in 2008 and Russian support for the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As of November 2008, there is not a consensus within NATO on a Georgian Membership Action Plan. The alliance does not want to get involved with a state that is at high risk of conflict, as Nato’s article 5 can be invoked.

The Georgian maneuvres came just three days after the end of a combined Russian-Chinese naval exercise “Joint Sea 2017” that took place in the Baltic Sea, and that was concluded on July 27 after extensive target practicing, the first time that Chinese navy ships take part in a military exercise in this area.

And just this Sunday, China itself showed its military muscle on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] with a massive parade at the Zhurihe training base in Inner Mongolia, involving Tanks, vehicle-mounted nuclear-capable missiles, military aircraft including H-6K bombers, which have been patrolling near Taiwan and Japan recently, the J-15 carrier-based fighters and new generation J-20 stealth fighter.

After Georgia, Pence will continue to Montenegro, Nato’s youngest member since June 5. For Montenegro, membership of the alliance had a calming effect. “Political actors are less aggressive,” says Zlato Vujocic, a poltical scientist with the University of Montenegro.

“I am talking about the one part of the opposition which is pro-Russian oriented. So actually now it is pretty quiet, but we should wait a little bit, because I don’t think that Russia will withdraw their activities in order to destabilize the political situation in Montenegro. But it is now more difficult that it was before. And the visit of Vice President Pence is actually sending the message to Russia that Montenegro is now part of the partnership, and the partners will help Montenegro if necessary, so this is a very clear message.

But Moscow cannot be happy, and after the tit-for-tat measures, the sanctions and the expulsions, US-Russian relations seem to be at a low tide.

Meanwhile, Europe is caught in the middle. Earlier on, Brussels already said it was not happy with the sanctions that were voted by the US congress a couple of days ago.

And one of the countries that would be most affected is probably Germany, that has massive gas deals with Russia.

We are wary [about] what is going on, with the way the US is dealing with this,” says Bernd Huettemann, the Secretary General of the European Movement Germany, “because it is the first time that they do this themselves, sanctions against Russia, not in a close relationship with the European way, so that is making a lot of headaches.

“But of course the energy policy of Germany is very much related to the Russian case. We have to say that Europe has a clear standpoint on Russia when it comes to sanctions, but if America goes beyond this, that is harming of course European and especially German trade with Russia. So you find a lot of opposition from the German government and the German businesses,” he says.

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