Lieutenant General Hodges, Commanding General of U.S. Army forces in Europe, visited Tbilisi to attend a conference on “Europe’s New Geopolitical Landscape” organized by the McCain Institute. During his visit, LTG Hodges also met with the Minister of Defense and Chief of Defense to discuss the extensive bilateral security cooperation activities involving the U.S. Army in Europe and the Georgian Armed Forces.
Lt. Gen Hodges in response to press inquiry at conference-related event:
“Of course what we all want is stability in this region, peace and security. That’s the ambition of NATO. It’s the ambition of the European Union: peace and security and stability. So, Georgia has been such a reliable partner since it joined the Partnership for Peace. Georgian soldiers have fought with NATO soldiers and other partners in Iraq, in Afghanistan. Georgia’s the second largest troop contributor now after the United States to the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. Secretary General Stoltenberg was just here. [He] talked about the importance of Georgia remaining on the path to joining NATO. It has got all the tools, he said. So, actually to establish a NATO joint training center here seems to me like such a logical next step to help improve security. That training center is not aimed at anybody. It’s a training center to help Georgian security forces protect Georgia. So, I don’t think that’s destabilizing in any way. What is destabilizing is when Russia illegally occupies sovereign Georgian territory, as it has since 2008; when Russia continues through its proxies in South Ossetia and Abkhazia to make it difficult for the EU monitoring mission to monitor the six points of agreement – and Russia has violated all six points of the agreement. That’s what is destabilizing. And when you think of the Russia talks about its backyard as if it is entitled to a sphere to control other countries, [that’s] not the 21st century. In the 21st century European countries, democratic countries are entitled to make decisions about their own security. Russia’s not entitled to a sphere. I think that’s what is destabilizing.”
“I think, first of all the Ukrainian people have made their European choice. They want to be part of Europe. Nobody wants to join Russia. All the countries want to go where there’s opportunity, where there’s freedom, there’s a chance for economic prosperity. That’s where everybody wants to go. So, Ukraine made that choice. Ukraine is the only country where people have died with an EU flag in their hands. So, I have a lot of respect for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people, for what they are trying to do. The big strategic question though is: what does the West want the security environment to look like? Russia’s invasion of Crimea and illegal occupation of Crimea, it’s very obvious support for separatists in the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine to use force to change the internationally recognized sovereign border of the European country it is just not acceptable. So the 28 nations of NATO at the Wales Summit in September last year said it is an unacceptable behavior and that was when the alliance came out with its decision to provide assurance to allies; to try and provide more stability in the region; to increase our exercises – which of course you’ve seen in increase of U.S. exercises in Georgia; and also to adapt the alliance in order to deter Russian aggression. Ukraine is not part of NATO, but it is a part of Europe. And so, those 28 nations believe that what Russia did there is wrong. So, that’s a big question: what do we want to environment to look like? I believe providing weapons by itself is not a strategy. It may one day become part of the strategy. But really more important I think is: how do we get Russia to stop using force to change borders, as it’s trying to do in Georgia, as it’s done in Ukraine; and how do we change the environment, so that Russia can rejoin the international community. We need Russia. In fact you may remember there were a lot of ways in which we were working with Russia. Russian soldiers were with NATO soldiers in Bosnia in implementation force. We were working together on counterterrorism. Lots of other areas where we want to have cooperation. But as long as they continue to use force to try to undermine a European government, that’s going to make it very difficult. They also have demonstrated, as they have demonstrated with the EU monitoring mission – their disruption of that monitoring mission to supervise and monitor the agreement in Georgia, they have continued to make it almost impossible for the OSCE, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to do its job of monitoring the Minsk agreement. So, those are the things that are destabilizing. Russia talks about using nuclear weapons against Denmark, Sweden, Romania. That’s irresponsible. That’s provocative. That’s not helpful.”