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Second U.S. aid ship bound for Georgia passes Turkish straits
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Second of three U.S. Navy warship carrying relief supplies to Georgia passed through Turkish straits.

Second U.S. aid ship bound for Georgia passes Turkish straits

Another U.S. warship arrived in a Georgia's main Black Sea port of Batumi as Russia ignored Western demands to pull its remaining troops from the Caucasus country's heartland.

The Coast Guard cutter Dallas entered the Dardanelles; as a giant crane unloaded 55 tons of aid from the USS McFaul for refugees in Batumi, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of another port, Poti, where Russian troops are still present.

This has been the first U.S. humanitarian mission via the sea to Georgia since the start of the conflict on Aug. 8, when Russia sent forces into Georgia to repel an attack on the Moscow-backed separatist region of South Ossetia that Tbilisi had started the day before. 

U.S. Navy officials were met by Georgian officials, including Defense Minister David Kezerashvili.

Kezerashvili said that "the population of Georgia will feel more safe from today from the Russian aggression." "They will feel safe not because the destroyer is here but because they will feel they are not alone facing the Russian aggression," he was quoted by the AP as saying.

The McFaul is also outfitted with an array of weaponry, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can carry both conventional or nuclear warheads, and a sophisticated radar system. For security reasons the Navy does not say if ships are carrying nuclear weapons, but they usually do not.

The command ship USS Mount Whitney is due to follow the two U.S. warships carrying relief supplies to Georgia. The U.S. has already delivered some aid by military cargo plane but is now shipping in beds and food for the displaced.

NATO-member Turkey has authorized the three U.S. ships to sail through the Turkish straits into the Black Sea.

The deputy chief of Russia’s general staff has suggested that the arrival of the McFaul and other NATO members’ ships would increase tensions in the Black Sea.

Russian Military also said Friday the need for a U.S. Navy humanitarian operation in the Black Sea is "extremely dubious", a day after the Pentagon announced that Russia had been informed about the passages.

RUSSIAN PRESENCE
Russia says the residual troops are peacekeepers needed to avert further bloodshed and to protect Georgia's separatist, pro-Moscow provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow withdrew the bulk of its forces from core Georgia on Friday.

The Russia-Georgia conflict erupted on August 7-8 when Tbilisi tried to retake South Ossetia. A Russian counter-offensive pushed into Georgia proper, crossing its main east-west highway and nearing a Western-backed oil pipeline from Azerbaijan.

Russian troops also moved into Western Georgia from Abkhazia, another breakaway region on the Black Sea. Hundreds of people were killed, tens of thousands displaced and housing and infrastructure wrecked in the fighting.
 
The United States and Europe fear the continued Russian presence in Georgia will cement the country's ethnic partition, undermine President Mikheil Saakashvili's pro-Western government and threaten vital energy pipelines criss-crossing the country.

Particularly worrisome for Tbilisi and the West is a checkpoint set up at the port of Poti, which lies outside the security zone Russia says is covered by its peacekeeping mandate and is hundreds of kilometers from South Ossetia.

"Putting up permanent facilities and checkpoints are inconsistent with the (ceasefire) agreement," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
France, which helped broker the ceasefire, urged Moscow on Saturday to order its forces out of Poti as soon as possible.

The secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, Kakha Lomaia, told Reuters Tbilisi had reached a deal with Moscow for the withdrawal of the Russian soldiers from Poti on Sunday but Russian officials said they could not confirm this.

Lomaia called on Russia to release 12 Georgian soldiers he said had been taken to Abkhazia, saying this violated the terms of a prisoner exchange agreement mediated by France.

BUFFER ZONE
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said he and Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev had agreed on Saturday on the need to create an international mechanism under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to replace Russian patrols in a buffer zone south of South Ossetia.

In a conflicting account, the Kremlin said replacing Russian peacekeepers was not discussed. Russia has earlier said South Ossetians and Abkhazians would only accept Russian peacekeepers.

 

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