- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2008

ABOARD THE USS McFAUL | A U.S. Navy warship carrying humanitarian aid anchored at the Georgian port of Batumi on Sunday, sending a strong signal of support to an embattled ally as Russian forces built up around two separatist regions.

Ahead of the USS McFaul’s arrival, a top Russian general suggested that the presence of U.S. and other NATO ships in the Black Sea would worsen tensions already at a post-Cold War low.

Russia pulled the bulk of its troops and tanks from its small southern neighbor Friday after a brief but intense war, but built up its forces in and around two separatist regions - South Ossetia and Abkhazia - and left other military posts deep inside Georgia.

The guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul, loaded with about 80 pallets containing about 55 tons of humanitarian aid, is the first of three American ships scheduled to arrive this week, according to the U.S. Embassy. The aid includes baby food, diapers, bottled water and milk.

The arrival was a stark reminder that it will take substantial aid and months of rebuilding before Georgia can recover from the war with Russia. Five days of fighting damaged cities and towns across the country and displaced tens of thousands of people.

The commander of the U.S. task force carrying aid to Georgia by ship, Navy Capt. John Moore, downplayed the significance of a destroyer bringing aid. “We really are here on a humanitarian mission,” he said.

The McFaul, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is also outfitted with an array of weaponry, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads, and a sophisticated radar system. For security reasons, the Navy does not say whether ships are carrying nuclear weapons, but they usually do not.

At dockside in Batumi, with the McFaul anchored offshore, U.S. Navy officials were met Sunday by Georgian officials, including Defense Minister David Kezerashvili.

Speaking to the Associated Press on the aft missile deck of the McFaul, anchored a mile offshore, Mr. Kezerashvili said Georgians would feel safer now.

“They will feel safe, not because the destroyer is here, but because they will feel they are not alone facing the Russian aggression,” he said.

The deputy chief of Russia’s general staff suggested that the arrival of the ship and those of other NATO members would increase tensions in the Black Sea. Russia shares the sea with NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Georgia and Ukraine, whose pro-Western president also is leading a drive for NATO membership.

“I don’t think such a buildup will foster the stabilization of the atmosphere in the region,” Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn as saying Saturday.

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