US extends military support to Georgia for six years, condemns Russia’s ‘occupation’

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signed an agreement to extend American support for Georgia’s military for six years, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The current agreement, which builds on the Georgia Defense Readiness Program, was due to expire by the end of the year. Austin signed a memorandum of understanding to extend the program after a meeting with Georgian Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze.

Austin said the initiative will serve as the focal point for US-Georgian defense cooperation.

“We will continue the progress of the Georgia Defense Readiness Program by reform of the defense sector, by strengthening the capabilities and capacity required for effective deterrence and defense, and by fostering interoperability with NATO nations,” he added.

Since a short war in 2008, Russia gained control of 20 percent of Georgia’s territory.

Austin said during a meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili: “The US condemns Russia’s ongoing occupation of Georgia and its attempts to expand influence into the Black Sea region through military coercion and malign activities.”

He added: “It is an important region and security and stability are crucial to fully realize the vision that we share of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. By modernizing Georgia’s Ministry of Defense and Georgian Defense Forces, this initiative will advance our shared security commitment and strengthen our partnership.”

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