The United States and Georgia plan to deepen their military cooperation as Secretary of State John Kerry underscored Washington’s commitment to supporting the ex-Soviet nation in its long-running standoff with two separatist regions backed by Russia.
The two allies signed a new military cooperation agreement during Kerry’s July 6 visit to Georgia -- his first to the Caucasus nation as secretary of state.
The signing came two days before a major NATO summit in Poland where Russian actions in Eastern Europe will be a major topic of discussion.
"The United States remains steadfast in our support of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Kerry said. “Russia's occupation and militarization of parts of Georgia's territory are unacceptable.”
Russia has backed the separatist Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and recognized both as sovereign nations following a brief 2008 war with Tbilisi. Only a handful of other countries have followed suit in deeming the breakaway territories independent nations.
WATCH: Kerry Reaffirms U.S. Support For Georgia's NATO Ambitions
Kerry demanded that Russia, which maintains troops in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, adhere to the truce ending the 2008 war.
The memorandum signed by Kerry and Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili pledges a "deepening [of] the defense and security relationship" between Washington and Tbilisi by giving Georgia access to additional U.S. military equipment, intelligence, and training.
It also aims to boost Georgia’s cybersecurity and modernize the country’s security forces to enable their greater integration with NATO, which Georgia aspires to join.
American security support for Tbilisi has until now largely focused on training Georgian forces for deployment in Iraq an Afghanistan.
"This memorandum provides a new framework for deeper partnership and covers fields of cooperation that are critically important for strengthening Georgia’s security and enhancing its defense capabilities," Kvirikashvili said.
Kerry travels on July 7 to Kyiv, where he is expected to discuss ways of ending Ukraine’s continuing war against Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.
Both Kyiv and Tbilisi have sought deeper integration with the West since Russia’s military seizure and forcible annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea territory in March 2014 and the ensuing war in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has objected fiercely Georgia’s bid for membership in NATO, which said in 2008 that Tbilisi would eventually join the military alliance.
Progress toward NATO ascension for Georgia has stalled, however, sparking frustration among top officials in Tbilisi who say that alliance members are hindering the process due to fears of an angry Russian reaction. This, Georgian officials say, essentially gives the Kremlin veto power on who can join NATO.
Kerry pledged that the alliance would reaffirm its promise of Georgian membership but could not provide a timeline for its accession.
"Obviously we have great respect for your desires as a country to be able to look to the West and engage with the West without punishment, without retribution," he said.
Based on reporting by AP and Reuters