Russian forces seized U.S. military equipment during the recent fighting in Georgia in addition to five vehicles whose capture was reported earlier, the Pentagon said Monday.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Russian troops broke open two large shipping containers in the Georgian port of Poti and “pilfered” the contents. Sensitive communications and electronics equipment used by U.S. forces during a joint U.S.-Georgia military exercise prior to the Aug. 8 incursion had already been shipped out of the port, he added.
One of the containers belonged to the Marines, which also lost five Humvees to the Russians. Mr. Whitman said he did not know who owned the other container.
The Russian newspaper Izvestia reported that the captured equipment included Global Positioning System equipment used in weapons targeting, identification, friend-or-foe electronic gear and classified radio and reconnaissance equipment.
A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, Evgeny Khorisko, said he had no knowledge of such equipment being seized or containers being opened. “I only know about the Humvees,” Mr. Khorisko said.
Mr. Whitman insisted that high-intelligence-value equipment had not been compromised, while at the same time acknowledging he did not know exactly what the Russians now had in their possession.
“We can’t tell what was in them, and we’re still doing an assessment, but none of them had sensitive items in them,” he said. The disclosure came as the Bush administration announced that it was pulling from Congress an agreement with Russia for peaceful cooperation in the civilian nuclear field.
“We make this decision with regret,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. “Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.”
Russia reacted with ambivalence. The Interfax news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying, “Such a step is regrettable,” but “Russia does not need civilian nuclear cooperation with the United States more than [Washington].”
The Pentagon has also announced a review of U.S.-Russia military cooperation and promised Georgia $1 billion in economic aid and an unspecified amount of military help.
The U.S. European Command will soon conduct a major security assessment of Georgia to determine what U.S. weapons and training will be sent to the former Soviet republic as part of increased U.S. aid, Mr. Whitman said.
“In the days to come, we’ll start doing a security assessment in terms of what Georgia needs in terms of its internal and external security,” he said.
While Mr. Whitman said he could not identify what was in the seized containers, officials at the European Command, which was in charge of the military exercises, said they suspected that the equipment was crew gear.
The equipment and Humvees were sent to Georgia in July as part of a monthlong military-training exercise with U.S. and Georgian forces and was being returned through the port of Poti when the Russians seized it Aug. 19. The vehicles and equipment were being shipped back to the United States following the exercise, which involved about 1,000 U.S. soldiers and 600 Georgian troops.
Mr. Whitman said Russia has not responded to a U.S. diplomatic protest made two weeks ago demanding that the equipment and five Marine Corps Humvees be returned. “We’ve seen no positive response to the demarche,” he said.
“We are trying to determine what equipment was taken and under what conditions and how to get it back,” said a U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We know about the Humvees. All the other equipment was left over from the exercise that had taken place. We don’t think it was extensive. Some had already left the country.”
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway told reporters Aug. 27 that four of the Humvees were conventional vehicles and one was an armored vehicle.
“None of those had anything like secret satellite communications; in fact, no radios at all,” Gen. Conway said. “They had radio mounts only … that’s traditionally how we ship.”
Gen. Conway said, “I think we’re going to send the Russians a bill and tell them, you know, either pay up or give us back our vehicles, guys. You know, that’s not the way we do business.”