US warship brings aid to Georgia

The USS McFaul arrives in Georgia's main Black Sea port loaded with the first US aid shipment of food, water and blankets.

US McFaul Guided Missile Destroyer is seen behind the Georgian flag after its arrival off shore the port of Batoumi in western Georgia on August 24, 2008. McFaul is loaded with 23 tons of relief supplies for Georgians. Russia faced renewed pressure to withdraw its troops from western Georgia, where they control access to the key port of Poti and have established other checkpoints in Georgian territory.

AFP PHOTO/Louisa Gouliamaki *** Local Caption ***  163513-01-08.jpg
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BATUMI, GEORGIA // The first US warship to bring aid to Georgia arrived in the country's main Black Sea port today, in a gesture of support for the ex-Soviet republic in its conflict with Russia. The US McFaul, a guided missile destroyer, is loaded with humanitarian aid including bottled water, blankets, hygiene kits and baby food for the tens of thousands displaced by the confrontation that erupted earlier this month over Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region.

The warship dropped anchor in waters just off Batumi, 80km south of the small oil shipment port of Poti, where Russian soldiers have been digging in for days. The Russian defence staff said yesterday that its troops would continue to patrol Poti, after the Russian military pushed deep into Georgia this month on the heels of retreating Georgian forces. Poti lies outside a "buffer zone" where Russia plans to station peacekeepers indefinitely.

Washington has been Tbilisi's strongest ally in its confrontation with Moscow, which blew up when Russia rolled troops and tanks over its southern border to repel a Georgian offensive to retake the South Ossetian capital from pro-Moscow separatists. Hundreds have been killed and about 80,000 displaced. The McFaul's arrival puts the US Navy in proximity to Russia's Black Sea fleet based in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

The fleet's flagship, Moskva, followed two smaller ships back to base yesterday, having patrolled waters off the coast of Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia. "Other Black Sea fleet ships dispatched to the Abkhazian coast continue carrying out their task of ensuring security, safety of sea traffic and maintaining a favourable operative situation near the Abkhazian coast," said chief Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo.

Asked about the arrival of US warships, he said: "The Russian Navy is aware of the arrival of the Nato ships. Black Sea ships will continue carrying out their duties of ensuring safety of sea traffic near the Abkhazian coast." Two other US ships are due to follow the McFaul. The United States has already delivered aid by military cargo plane. * Reuters