ISTANBUL - TDN with wire dispatches
The second of three U.S. Navy warships carrying relief supplies to Georgia entered Turkey's Çanakkale Strait, also known as the Dardanelles, on Sunday. Another U.S. warship arrived in Georgia's main Black Sea port of Batumi, as Russia ignored Western demands to pull out its remaining troops from the Georgian mainland.
The Coast Guard cutter Dallas entered the Dardanelles on Sunday, as the U.S. destroyer McFall, which passed through Turkish straits Friday, arrived in Batumi carrying humanitarian aid, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
This has been the first U.S. humanitarian mission to Georgia by sea since the start of the conflict on Aug. 8, when Russian forces entered Georgia to repel an attack on the Moscow-backed separatist region of South Ossetia that Tbilisi had started the day before.
The guided missile destroyer USS McFaul, loaded with 72 pallets of humanitarian aid, is the first of five American ships scheduled to arrive this week. A U.S. official said the American ship is anchored in Batumi, Georgia's main oil port, which is close to the southern end of Georgia's Black Sea coast near Turkey, because of concerns about the Georgian port of Poti.
Russian troops still hold positions near Poti, and reports from AP journalists in Poti have told of Russians looting the area. Georgian port officials have said that radar, Coast Guard ships and other port facilities were extensively damaged by Russian troops.
The command ship USS Mount Whitney is due to follow the other two U.S. warships carrying relief supplies. The United States has already delivered some aid by military cargo plane but is now shipping in beds and food for those displaced by the conflict.
The deputy chief of Russia's general staff suggested Saturday that the arrival of the McFaul and other ships of NATO member states would increase tension in the Black Sea. �I don't think such a build up will foster the stabilization of the atmosphere in the region,� Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn as saying.
NATO-member Turkey has authorized the three U.S. ships to sail through the Turkish straits into the Black Sea.
Meanwhile NATO has begun �routine exercises� in the Black Sea involving U.S., German, Spanish and Polish vessels, which were planned before the Georgia conflict erupted, a spokeswoman told Agence France - Presse on Friday.
�This is a routine port visit and exercises that were planned a long time ago,� said Carmen Romero, spokeswoman at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels. Permission to transit through the Bosporus was requested of Turkey in late June, she added.
The exercises, which will include visits to Bulgaria and Romania, began on Thursday, with the three European ships and are due to end on September 10. �A U.S. frigate is going to join later this week, I understand,� the spokeswoman said.