AP Interview: Georgia's leader warns of Russian expansion

AP News
Posted: May 19, 2015 9:24 AM
AP Interview: Georgia's leader warns of Russian expansion

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia's president said Tuesday that Russia is poised to use its armed forces to expand further into former Soviet states and he called on the West never to accept any Russian aggression.

Russia's 2008 war with neighboring Georgia and its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 showed that Moscow is ready to exploit any instability in countries it still considers to be under its sphere of influence, President Giorgi Margvelashvili said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"They are the fastest and the first to bring in their tanks," he said, speaking near-fluent English. "So that's why we can say that half of the Eurasian continent is living under constant threat. If they have some kind of unstable environment in their country, their sovereign country, the neighbor will be quick to solve the problem through Kalashnikov wording."

Georgia, which has aspirations of one day joining the 28-nation European Union and NATO, is a member of the EU's Eastern Partnership, which holds its annual summit at the end of the week in Riga, Latvia. Other members are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine.

About 300 U.S. troops are in Georgia this month holding joint exercises, and NATO is opening a training center in Georgia later this year. Georgia has been a reliable contributor of troops to NATO-led operations, including campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Margvelashvili said Georgia still feels the military threat from Russia after losing 20 percent of its territory to Russian-supported separatists after the 2008 war. Russia has border guards and troops stationed in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia — two separatist Georgian territories.

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As Russia did in Georgia in 2008, Margvelashvili said Russia exploited instability in Ukraine following the ouster of a Russia-friendly president to seize Crimea in March 2014 and foment an armed rebellion in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east. The president warned that if there were not a stronger condemnation from the West, the pattern could be repeated in other countries along Russia's border.

"What we are hoping to see is a stronger, principled message that this is unaccepted — and this will stay unaccepted even after the cease-fire (in east Ukraine)," Margvelashvili said.