Tbilisi: NATO on Wednesday began controversial military exercises in Georgia a day after the ex-Soviet republic said it had put down a military rebellion encouraged by Russia.
The month-long exercises involve at least 1,100 soldiers from more than a dozen NATO countries and partners in command and field exercises.
Georgia has lauded the exercises as a gesture of solidarity nine months after its brief war with Russia, but Moscow has reacted angrily, with President Dmitry Medvedev calling them “an overt provocation.”
A Georgian defence ministry spokesman responsible for the exercises, Colonel Giorgi Kakiashvili, said they were going ahead as planned.
“Everything is going ahead according to the schedule. Most of the participants have already arrived,” he told AFP.
The exercises, involving both NATO countries and members of the alliance’s Partnership for Peace program for former Eastern bloc countries, have two components.
“Cooperative Longbow”, running from Wednesday to 19 May, is a “command post” exercise focusing on training and compatibility with NATO procedures in a crisis-response operation.
“Cooperative Lancer,” from 21 May to 3 June, is a larger exercise aimed at providing basic training for peacekeepers.
On Tuesday Georgia said it had peacefully put down a mutiny at a military base outside Tbilisi aimed at disrupting the exercises.
Georgia initially accused Russia of backing an armed coup — a claim Moscow described as “insane” — but later backed away from claims of Russian involvement.
The brief uprising in a tank battalion at the Mukhrovani base ended peacefully after President Mikheil Saakashvili intervened.
At least 20 people have been arrested, including the battalion’s commander, and police were hunting for two former military officers and a current officer alleged to have been involved.
Georgia’s opposition accused Saakashvili of staging the rebellion to distract attention from nearly a month of protests calling for his resignation.
The mutiny led neighbouring Armenia to pull out of the NATO exercises, but Washington played down its importance, calling the mutiny an “isolated incident.”