Russia: U.S. warship with aid is trouble

ABOARD THE U.S.S. MCFAUL (AP) - August 25, 2008 The U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. McFaul reached Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi on Sunday, bringing baby food, bottled water and a message of support for an embattled ally.

The deputy chief of Russia's general staff suggested the arrival of the McFaul and other U.S. and NATO ships would increase tensions: Russia shares the sea with NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria as well as Georgia and Ukraine, whose pro-Western presidents are leading drives for NATO membership.

"I don't think such a buildup will foster the stabilization of the atmosphere in the region," Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn as saying Saturday.

Georgian Defense Minister David Kezerashvili told The Associated Press on the aft missile deck of the McFaul after greeting U.S. Navy officers that the population of Georgia would feel "more safe" from the "Russian aggression" as a result of the ship's arrival.

"They will feel safe not because the destroyer is here but because they will feel they are not alone facing the Russian aggression," he said.

Local children offered the Americans wine and flowers.

In Europe, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would convene a special meeting of European Union leaders over the crisis as Russia ignored Western accusations it has fallen short of its commitment to withdraw forces from its smaller neighbor.

The war erupted Aug. 7 as Georgia launched a massive artillery barrage targeting the Russian-backed separatist province of South Ossetia. Russian forces repelled the offensive and drove deep into Georgia, taking crucial positions across the small former Soviet republic.

Russia pulled the bulk of its troops and tanks out Friday under a cease-fire brokered by Sarkozy, but built up its forces in and around South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region. They also left other military posts at locations inside Georgia proper.

The U.S. and EU say both those moves violated Russia's commitments.

NATO halted the operations of its vehicle for interaction with Russia, demanding a fuller withdrawal, and Moscow responded by freezing military contacts with the alliance - its Cold War foe whose eastward expansion has angered a resurgent Russia.

The guided missile cruiser USS McFaul, carrying about 55 tons of humanitarian aid, is the first of three American ships scheduled to arrive this week. It brought baby food, diapers, bottled water, milk and hygiene products.

Sailors in a chain on deck passed the supplies up from the hold to be lifted by a crane for transport to shore.

The commander of the U.S. task force carrying aid to Georgia by ship, Navy Capt. John Moore, downplayed the significance of a destroyer bringing aid.

"We really are here on a humanitarian mission," he said.

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

A U.S. official said the American ship anchored in Batumi, Georgia's main oil port on the Black Sea, because of concerns about damage to the Georgian port of Poti - not because Poti is closer to Russian forces in Abkhazia and Georgia proper.

Russian troops still hold positions near Poti, and Georgian port officials say radar, Coast Guard ships and other port facilities were extensively damaged by Russian forces. AP journalists there have reported on Russians looting the area.

An AP television cameraman and his Georgian driver were treated roughly and briefly detained Sunday by Russian troops outside Poti as he shot video of Russian positions.

Adding to the tension, South Ossetian officials claimed that Georgia was building up military forces in an area along the edge of the battered region and had fired sporadically at villages overnight.

As Moscow's military moved to redraw de facto borders on the ground, Russia's parliament on Monday was planning to consider renewed requests from South Ossetia and Abkhazia for recognition of their claims of independence from Georgia.

Georgia claims Russia wants to annex the regions.


Associated Press Writers Christopher Torchia in Gori and Skra, Georgia; Misha Dzhindhzikhashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia; and Steve Gutterman in Moscow contributed to this report.

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