Russia has begun war games in its North Caucasus region neighbouring Georgia, in a warning to foes that the military remains on standby for any new conflict in the area.
Dubbed Caucasus 2009, the week-long exercises that began on Monday are just north of the border where Russia and Georgia fought a brief war last August over two breakaway pro-Moscow Georgian regions.
About 8,500 troops will participate in the exercises and up to 200 tanks, 450 armoured cars and 250 artillery pieces of various types, according to the Russian defence ministry.
The war games will run until July 6 and will focus on counter-terrorism and the defence of strategic targets, the ministry said.
“The aim of the exercises are to establish the actual state of battle readiness and troop mobilisation deployed in Russia’s southwest region,” local military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Bobrun told Russian news agencies.
The exercises will involve more troops than the Caucasus 2008 war games that Russia held last year. Some 8,000 soldiers took part in those exercise, which wrapped up shortly before the Russia-Georgia war broke out.
Interfax news agency quoted a high-ranking military source as saying that Georgia was still seeking “military adventures” and its military capacity was no lower than in August last year.
“The exercises will certainly contribute to stability in the south of Russia and the Caucasus as a whole and cool down the fantasies of some war mongers,” the source said.
Troops from the Georgian rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will also participate in the exercises, though the defence ministry did not specify their number.
Russia recognised the breakaway Georgian regions as independent last year following the five-day war over the rebel region of South Ossetia.
Since then Moscow has been extremely critical of any military cooperation between NATO and Georgia. It repeatedly denounced NATO’s war games in Georgia in May and June, which involved about 1,100 troops from 16 countries.