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Georgia minister dismissed for 'telling truth' about US training - Russian envoy

Brussels, 28 August: Russia's permanent envoy to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin is certain that the decision to dismiss Georgian Defence Minister Davit Sikharulidze is directly linked to the fact that he revealed the real aim behind training given to Georgian military servicemen by American military specialists - their possible use in local conflicts in the Caucasus.

"The reason for his dismissal is not that Sikharulidze said something untrue. It is that he said the truth - (Georgian President Mikheil) Saakashvili is indeed preparing Georgian military servicemen for use in new conflicts with neighboring countries with the help of American military advisors," Rogozin told Interfax today.

"The USA should not pretend that it does not understand this," he added.

It is no secret that Sikharulidze was removed for talking too much, since his dismissal occurred straight after his statement about the possible use of Georgian military servicemen, who are to be trained by American instructors for the Afghan mission, to carry out military tasks within Georgia itself, Rogozin said.

This statement "provoked a terrible commotion in the White House and the US State Department," he added, so Saakashvili had no choice but to remove the "talkative minister" from his post.

As for the Americans' concern about the problem of supplying soldiers for the war in Afghanistan, it does exist, Rogozin said. However, it looks like it is not just a case of preparing "Georgian cannon fodder" for the international mission - specialists from the US Marine Corps are in fact training the Georgian military for other purposes too, Rogozin added.

"Of course, this does not contribute to stability in the South Caucasus, nor to faith in the Western powers which, while supporting the Saakashvili regime despite all its aggressive escapades, are systematically continuing to prepare the Georgian army for possible use in local conflicts," Rogozin said.

The likelihood of Tbilisi using force is confirmed by other facts, he said. "For example, the unceasing deliveries of arms to Georgia - supposedly to fulfil old contracts, or so we are told," he added.

Russia raises this issue at all bilateral talks with countries for which it has information indicating that they are continuing to equip Georgia with arms which could be used against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Rogozin said.

"This topic is constantly brought up as a priority at all talks with these countries, even if the talks do not directly concern the situation in the South Caucasus, foreign policy or the foreign policy situation as such. This concerns countries which, we believe, are still equipping Saakashvili with gunpowder and lead," he said.

Rogozin described Saakashvili as the "biggest destabilizing factor in the Caucasus". It is strange that the West continues to extend support, and not only political support, to official Tbilisi "despite the fact that everything is clear to everyone today regarding the events of August 2008", Rogozin said. "This worries us most of all, and discourages us, I would even say," he added.

"I believe that the issue of the situation in the South Caucasus should be tackled head on in relations between Russia and NATO. At least, from the point of view of what is proportional use of force and non-proportional use of force to resolve military-political objectives," he said.

When the political season resumes, Rogozin said he hoped to reach an agreement with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen "about the optimal form of discussions on this issue, so that the topic does not hang like an anchor, dragging down the ship of the Russia-NATO Council".

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