WASHINGTON -- Russia's invasion of Georgia has raised concerns among senior Pentagon officials about long-term U.S.-Russian relations, including future military ties, the top U.S. military official has said.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said Russian and U.S. military officials were working carefully to coordinate the movements of their navies in an increasingly crowded Black Sea region to avoid any potential for direct confrontation.
"The message that has come from the Russians is one that is tied to invading another country, invading sovereign territory," Mullen told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
That "has a lot of us concerned about what it means now, what it means a year from now, what it means long term with our relationship on the military-military side as well as the relationship between our two countries," he added.
Mullen offered no specifics. But Pentagon officials said before the invasion that they would pursue closer U.S.-Russian military and security cooperation in an effort to encourage constructive behavior by Moscow in the international arena.
Russian troops and tanks poured into Georgia on August 8 to protect ethnic Russians in the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Potential For Confrontation
Moscow has since defied pressure from the United States and European powers to withdraw from Georgia. Escalating tension has prompted Moscow to pull back from cooperation with NATO and to recognize Georgia's two rebel regions as independent states.
An increasing Western naval presence in the Black Sea in recent days further heightened sensitivities.
Four NATO warships, including the U.S. frigate "USS Taylor," are in the area for a scheduled exercise. The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer "USS McFaul" and U.S. Coast Guard cutter "Dallas" also remain in the Black Sea after delivering humanitarian supplies to Georgia.
Mullen acknowledged on August 28 that the increased military presence raised the danger of an inadvertent confrontation between navies.
"Certainly there is potential there because physically the Russian navy is operating in the Black Sea, so is the United States Navy," he said. "We've worked hard over many years to figure out ways to both operate together, operate around each other. We know how to do that and I believe we'll continue to do that safely."
As Russian forces poured into Georgia, Mullen said there were no real U.S. military options for helping an ally that has staunchly supported the U.S. war on terrorism and aspires to NATO membership.
The United States had been training Georgian forces in counterinsurgency tactics for deployment to Iraq. But Mullen dismissed suggestions that more conventional training could have held back the Russian onslaught.
"There was a significant [Russian] force and I'm not sure it would have made any difference," he said.