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Cohen Talks Security With Ukrainian, Georgian Leaders

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

ISTANBUL, Turkey, Aug. 2, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has personally extended the hand of defense cooperation to the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.

The secretary visited the two nations during a seven-day trip around the world July 25 to Aug. 1. Cohen met with U.S. troops and local government officials in Japan and Korea before reaching Istanbul. From here, he made a day trip into Ukraine July 31 and then stopped in Georgia Aug. 1 before heading home.

Ukraine, a nation of 52 million people, borders the Black Sea and rents facilities in its port of Sevastopol to the 250-ship Russian Black Sea fleet. Ukrainian naval forces, with about 160 vessels, are based to the south in the port of Donuzlav.

Georgia, with about 5.2 million people, borders the Black Sea sandwiched between Russia and Turkey. It is a gateway from the Black Sea to the Caucasus and the Caspian region. Both states gained independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved.

Arriving in Belbeck, Ukraine, Cohen met with President Leonid Kuchma and Defense Minister Alexander Kuzmuk. U.S. officials said the secretary discussed ways the United States can continue supporting Ukraine's efforts to build a professional military that can work with NATO in a wide range of peacekeeping initiatives.

At a press conference with Kuzmuk, Cohen announced the two nations would extend the Cooperative Threat Reduction program until 2006. The program, set to expire in 2000, is helping Ukraine reduce its nuclear arsenal and the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Cohen also announced that the United States intends to help Ukraine send forces to participate in NATO's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. He said a U.S. ship would escort Ukrainian troops to Thessaloniki, the Greek port serving as the transportation hub for international forces.

"We believe it's very important for Ukraine to contribute to the peacekeeping mission," Cohen said. "President Kuchma provided great leadership in seeking mediation during the course of the conflict and now [is] making a contribution to keeping the peace after the resolution of that conflict."

U.S. military ties continue to expand and strengthen with Ukraine, Cohen remarked. More than 100 military contacts occur each year, ranging from officer education and exchange programs to binational and multinational training exercises.

The United States is helping Ukraine reform and modernize its military of about 500,000 troops, inherited from the former Soviet Union. Ukrainian leaders are downsizing the force and intend to cut back to between 250,000 to 300,000 by the end of the decade.

Ukraine also plays an active role in NATO's Partnership for Peace. Over the past three years, the United States has contributed about $3.4 million to help upgrade and modernize Ukraine's Yavoriv training center. The center near L'viv, is an official Partnership for Peace training site.

About 350 U.S. service members are currently at Yavoriv taking part in Peace Shield 99, a two-week multinational "in-the-spirit of" Partnership for Peace exercise running through Aug. 14. U.S. service members will join forces with about 650 soldiers from Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Latvia, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.

More than 250 members of the California Army National Guard's 40th Infantry Division (Mechanized) will provide command and control for National Guard units from Kansas and Illinois. The U.S. sponsor for the exercise is the Southern European Task Force, based at Vicenza, Italy.

U.S. defense officials said Ukraine's decision to eliminate its nuclear force and contribute to training peacekeepers are two indications of its commitment to peace and stability in Europe.

In the 1,500-year-old Georgian city of Tbilisi the next day, Cohen met with President Edvard Shevardnadze, Defense Minister David Tevzadze and other government leaders. U.S. defense officials said Cohen's visit, the first visit by a U.S. defense secretary, underscored U.S.-Georgian cooperation in developing Georgia's defense and security structures.

Cohen and Georgian leaders discussed security assistance issues and ways the United States can help Georgia protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Cohen announced the United States will give Georgia six helicopters, plus four more for spare parts, by the end of next year to help enforce security along its borders.

The secretary also discussed ways the two nations can increase military ties. The United States currently provides funds for military education and training to help Georgia reform its military. This year about 30 training exercises are planned with Georgian troops, Cohen noted.

Georgia has undertaken "a serious, sensible and successful reform program," Cohen remarked. The nation also plays an active role in NATO's Partnership for Peace and in the Euro-Atlantic Council. "NATO looks to Georgia as a country that has made a successful transformation to democracy," Cohen said.

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