US Army Forced To ‘Cancel’ Military Drills In Europe; Georgia’s Pro-Russia Shift Causes Diplomatic Rift?

The Pentagon recently announced the cancellation of Noble Exercise 2024, a major US Army training event, which was scheduled to take place with Georgia later this month. The decision comes amid accusations that the Georgian government has waged an anti-American misinformation campaign.

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Noble Exercise 2024, originally set to run from July 25 to August 6, was expected to involve approximately 3,000 US and allied troops. 

The exercise, typically held at a former Soviet airbase on the outskirts of Tbilisi, has been a key component of military cooperation between the United States and Georgia. In previous years, thousands of troops from numerous countries participated.

The Pentagon’s statement cited the spread of false information by the Georgian government, which claimed that the United States and other allies had pressured Georgia to open a second front on its border with Russia. 

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Additionally, Georgian officials accused US representatives of attempting two coups against the country’s ruling party.

“The United States government has determined that this is an inappropriate time to hold a large-scale military exercise in Georgia,” the Pentagon stated, emphasizing the gravity of the situation.

In 2022, a similar exercise in Georgia saw the participation of around 2,400 service members from the United States and 19 other nations.

In earlier versions of Noble Partner, troops from Georgia, the US, and allied countries conducted joint training in urban operations, defensive positions, combined mechanized movements, and live-fire drills. 

This year’s planned drills were set to continue this tradition of extensive international military cooperation, underscoring the strategic significance of the region.

The Pentagon’s statement further clarified that the cancellation was not a decision made lightly and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to partnering with Georgian military forces. 

The breakdown in relations between the United States and Georgia marks a significant setback, given Georgia’s history of steadfast support for US military efforts, particularly in Afghanistan. 

For over a decade, Georgia was the largest per-capita contributor of troops to the US-led war in Afghanistan, deploying more than 20,000 soldiers beginning in 2010. 

Georgian troops frequently engaged in combat, particularly in Helmand province, where they faced intense fighting. The sacrifices were substantial, with at least 32 Georgian soldiers killed and over 300 wounded during the conflict.

The cancellation of Noble Exercise 2024 signals a troubling development in US-Georgia relations, raising concerns about the future of military cooperation. 

Georgia’s Pro-Russia Shift Causes Diplomatic Rift  

The United States and Georgia are experiencing a significant diplomatic rift as Western nations accuse the Georgian government of shifting towards authoritarianism and aligning more closely with Russia. 

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In May, thousands of Georgians protested against a controversial bill passed by the legislature, which critics argue aims to suppress dissent. 

The bill, modeled after Russia’s “foreign agent law,” mandates that media outlets and non-governmental organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad must register as foreign agents.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the legislation, stating it seeks to “marginalize and discredit independent, foreign-funded groups and media that serve the public interest in Georgia.” 

In response, the US State Department imposed visa restrictions on Georgian politicians who championed the bill, accusing them of “undermining democracy in Georgia.”

U.S. Army Soldiers from the Fourth Squadron, 2d Cavalry Regiment, stand in formation for the closing ceremony at Noble Partner 22 at the Vaziani Training Area, in the country of Georgia, Sep. 8, 2022. (Capt. Gabrielle Hildebrand/U.S. Army)

Following these sanctions, a State Department spokesperson expressed hope that Georgian leaders would reconsider their actions and realign with their long-stated democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. 

This situation represents a dramatic shift for Georgia, which has long aspired to NATO membership and greater integration with the European Union. Critics argue that the new legislation jeopardizes Tbilisi’s efforts to join these Western institutions.

Despite the controversial bill, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili remains committed to a pro-Western stance and vetoed the legislation. However, lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dream party overrode her veto, ensuring the bill’s passage.

This shift towards Russia marks a significant departure from Georgia’s previous trajectory. Under the leadership of pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia maintained strong ties with the United States. 

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In 2008, former US President George W. Bush advocated for Georgia’s NATO membership, though other NATO members resisted the proposal. In gratitude for his support, a highway in Tbilisi was named after Bush.

While the cancellation of Noble Exercise 2024 highlights the current strain in US-Georgia relations, the Pentagon expressed optimism about future collaboration. It looks forward to participating in the Agile Spirit 2025 military exercise, traditionally held in Turkey and Georgia.