WASHINGTON — The expected decision by the US to boost funding for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) in the fiscal year 2017 budget is welcome news, but Georgia would like to have US gear prepositioned inside its border, said Georgian Minister of Defense Tinatin Khidasheli.
Speaking Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Khidasheli said that increasing funding for the ERI means "more secure borders, which is very important for us."
The ERI was launched in June of 2014 to support training exercises and increased cooperation with European allies along the border with Russia as a response to the invasion of Ukraine by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The US has prepositioned military gear in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, along with Germany.
On Nov. 30, Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said to expect a "pretty significant increase" in ERI funding in the fiscal 2017 FY17 budget request from the Pentagon. That boost will come in the form of a "more robust" version of what the US has done so far, in part by "continuing a higher level of presence and exercising, especially with our Eastern European partners," McCord said.
Under the ERI, the US has conducted bilateral exercises with Georgia and visited the port of Batumi, but has not prepositioned any equipment inside Georgia’s borders. Khidasheli indicated that she would like to see that changed.
"As for equipment and prepositioning, yes, we would love to see more, and I hope we see more in the future," she said during the speech.
Speaking to Defense News after her comments, Khidasheli expanded on her desire for US equipment to be stationed in-country.
"Putting more security in [the] Baltics or eastern border of NATO is the same value for us as putting it in Georgia, because deterring Russia anywhere means more security for Georgia," Khidasheli said. "But at the same time, we hope that Georgia will be part of that deal, as well, and we will get our share in this entire picture of European security setup … we will see. We’re negotiating all those issues and I’m very optimistic that we will get our portion from this."
On the whole, Khidasheli, who has been defense minister since May, of 2015, expressed appreciation for US support.
"If there is any country out there in the world who is always there, that would be the United States," she said, adding that Georgia has no "specific request" for military equipment from the US.
As to Russia, Khidasheli warned about the "vicious thinking" in Moscow that it can get away with any actions, stating that if there are not repercussions for its actions in Ukraine — and, now, Syria — the "next challenge will be something more painful and more significant."