Russia on Tuesday expressed alarm over a Czech government decision to transfer ammunition to Georgia, saying it was only the latest instance of NATO states' rearming the former Soviet republic.
The Foreign Ministry said that the purported arms shipments were taking place "against the background of a headlong growth" in Georgia's military expenditures and a difficult economic situation in the country, and that they could whet Tbilisi's appetite to use force against the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring them back under Tbilisi's control.
In addition to destabilizing the situation in the Caucasus region, the arms could fall into the hands of international terrorists, "with their subsequent proliferation about the region and, it cannot be excluded, beyond its boundaries," the ministry warned.
"All of this cannot but provoke concern," the ministry was quoted as saying by the AP.
In response to a Georgian request, the Czech government approved a donation of unneeded ammunition worth 468,729 koruna (US$19,757, Ђ16,007) to Georgia on Aug. 31, but said the donation should first go through a regular licensing process. If and when a license is issued, the shipment will be made by a Czech company chosen by the United States, which will pay for transport, the AP reports.
Relations between Russia and Georgia have long been tense over Russian allegations that Tbilisi allowed Chechen rebels and international terrorists to transit its territory and Georgian accusations of Moscow's intention to interfere in its affairs.
Ties have become even more fraught as Saakashvili has repeatedly voiced his commitment to having his nation join NATO, intensifying Russia's jitters over the prospect of NATO bases on its doorstep.