US Warship Carries Aid to Georgian Port of Poti

By: AP
By: AP
In this image provided by the US Navy the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas heads to sea in Souda Bay, Crete with a load of humanitarian assistance supplies for the Republic of Georgia Friday, Aug. 22, 2008. The United States has canceled plans to try to dock the military ship carrying humanitarian aid in the Georgian port of Poti, where Russian forces are posted on the outskirts, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Wednesday Aug. 27, 2008. (AP Photo/US Navy - Paul Farley)

In this image provided by the US Navy the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas heads to sea in Souda Bay, Crete with a load of humanitarian assistance supplies for the Republic of Georgia Friday, Aug. 22, 2008. The United States has canceled plans to try to dock the military ship carrying humanitarian aid in the Georgian port of Poti, where Russian forces are posted on the outskirts, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Wednesday Aug. 27, 2008. (AP Photo/US Navy - Paul Farley)

POTI, Georgia - The flagship of the U.S. Navy's Mediterranean fleet anchored outside the key Georgian port of Poti on Friday, bringing in tons of humanitarian aid to a port still partially occupied by hundreds of Russian troops.

Although Russia has watched the arrival of the USS Mount Whitney and other U.S. ships in recent weeks with deep suspicion, a Foreign Ministry official said Russia does not plan any military action to the U.S. naval presence in the Black Sea.

The Whitney was the first Navy ship to travel to Poti since Georgia fought a short war with Russia last month. The ship anchored just offshore from the port, according to harbor master Vakhtang Tavberidze.

Two U.S. ships have already come and gone from Georgia carrying humanitarian aid in recent weeks, but they anchored at a smaller port, Batumi, to the south.

U.S. military officials have said the Mount Whitney, like the other ships, was bringing humanitarian aid for Georgians, including blankets, powdered milk and sanitizing equipment.

Russia had signaled to U.S. officials that it would not impede the ship's movement. But, contrary to earlier reports, Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US European Command, said Friday there were no plans to allow the Russians to inspect the cargo.

"That will not be allowed," Dorrian said. "The port of Poti is Georgian sovereign territory."

Asked why the ship traveled to Poti and not Batumi, he said "That is where they requested we deliver this humanitarian aid and that's where we're going."

Russia is extremely wary about the presence of U.S. and NATO ships in the Black Sea region and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier this week promised an unspecified response to U.S. and NATO actions.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Ministry official Andrei Nesterenko offered a measured response.

"There is no talk of military action," he said after a reporter's question about what Russia's reaction will be. But he again questioned why the United States was using warships.

"It is unlikely that warships of this class can deliver humanitarian aid in great quantities," Nesterenko said.

"Certainly, there are holds on these ships, but normally they contain provisions for the crew only, apart from essential items that might be needed during the journey," he said. "How can large amounts of humanitarian aid be delivered by such a ship?"

Russian forces bombed Poti, which has a sizable oil shipment facility, during the war with Georgia over its separatist regions. Several Georgian ships were sunk in its harbor.

Russian forces occupied some of the port in recent weeks and Russian peacekeeping troops are stationed at least two locations outside the city, alongside major roads. Traffic flowed freely past two positions Friday but the only visible military activity was a Russian jeep headed toward the city.

Two U.S. ships have already come and gone from Georgia carrying humanitarian aid in recent weeks, but they anchored at a smaller port, Batumi, to the south.

U.S. military officials have said the Mount Whitney, like the other ships, was bringing humanitarian aid for Georgians, including blankets, powdered milk and sanitizing equipment.

Adjacent to the commercial port where the aid will be delivered stands the badly damaged military port, the main base of Georgia's destroyed navy.

Eight military ships including the flagship for Georgia's small maritime force were sunk by Russian forces during the hostilities. The missile cruiser Dioskuira stood with its hull under water and badly damaged communications masts protruding from the water.

In Portugal, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia is "deepening its isolation" by not honoring commitments it has made regarding Georgia.

The West's response to the Georgia conflict has thwarted Russia from achieving the "strategic objectives" it had when Moscow's recent, brief war with Georgia began, she said at a news conference in Portugal's capital before heading to Libya.

Vice President Dick Cheney met with top Ukrainian leaders Friday, calling their country's relationship with the United States "very important" as Washington sought to reassure its allies in former Soviet states.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko emphasized that he shared the United States' critical view of Russian military intervention in Georgia.

"We value our strategic bilateral relationship highly," Yushchenko said. "On the majority of the issues, including Georgia, we have an understanding with the United States."

Yushchenko has pushed strongly for closer ties with the European Union and NATO. He has also objected to Russia using its ships stationed in Ukraine in the war, thus dragging Ukraine into the conflict, and condemned Russia's decision to recognize Georgia's separatist areas as independent states.

Cheney also met separately with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, discussing regional security and efforts to diversify energy supplies.

Cheney's visit came during a political crisis pitting Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, coalition partners, against one another, setting Ukraine's government teetering on the verge of collapse.

Before Ukraine, Cheney visited oil-rich Azerbaijan and then Georgia, where Russia has recognized the independence of two breakaway regions: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Washington announced US$1 billion in U.S. economic aid for Georgia earlier this week.


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