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U.S., Russian military chiefs hold Helsinki summit

By NIKITA PETROV, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Oct. 31, 2008 at 6:23 PM   |   Comments

MOSCOW, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- On Oct. 21, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his Russian counterpart, Army Gen. Nikolai Makarov, at a mansion outside Helsinki, Finland.

Military analysts continue to discuss the meeting, because they have not yet clarified numerous issues considered by the two military leaders.

They would like to know why the talks were held on the initiative of Makarov, why Mullen went to neutral Helsinki, rather than to Riga, capital of Latvia, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member state, from Belgrade, and why both men chose to negotiate just outside the capital of a neutral state rather than in more convenient Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, another NATO member state, or St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city. Analysts also would like to have an idea regarding the agenda.

After landing at the Chkalov military airfield near Moscow, Makarov told reporters that he and Mullen had discussed the Caucasian situation and that of South Ossetia. The sides agreed to resume cooperation under the Russia-NATO Council's auspices, discussed some traditional issues, including counter-terrorism operations, efforts to fight drug trafficking, African and other pirates, as well as the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"We have agreed on the need for subsequent efforts and moves in order to solve these important and serious problems," Makarov said.

He said they came to understand the causes of cooler Russian-U.S. relations. "The issues that we discussed require serious assessment so as to choose the appropriate decisions for adoption and implementation in the future," he said.

Makarov said he had informed Mullen about the structure of the Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their projected operations.

"The two bases will have 3,700 officers and men and will start operating next year. Although the sites have already been established, it will take at least 12 months to create the required infrastructure, to allow them to complete their objectives," Makarov told journalists.

However, the issue of the Russian bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was not the main focus of the bilateral talks. RIA Novosti sources said both military chiefs had reviewed the August 2008 Russian-Georgian military conflict, Tbilisi's unprovoked attack on Tskhinvali, the killing of Russian peacekeepers and South Ossetian civilians, the subsequent Russian peace-enforcement operation, the assistance to Georgian units by U.S. military instructors, and the capture of U.S.-made combat-support systems delivered to Tbilisi and seized by Russian forces.

For example, Russian paratroopers seized four Humvees near Georgia's Poti seaport. Washington considers this act unlawful because these are U.S. Army vehicles with federal license plates. They allegedly had nothing to do with the Georgian aggression against Abkhazia or South Ossetia and were driving to Poti for subsequent shipment back to the United States after a Georgian-U.S. exercise.

This is why the U.S. side is demanding that the Humvees be returned without delay. U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle also said this in a recent media interview.

But Moscow thinks otherwise. Deputy Chief of General Staff Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn told a RIA Novosti news conference that Georgian rather than U.S. soldiers were driving the Humvees, which had data-exchange, reconnaissance, navigation, telecommunications and other military systems in the vehicles.

The Russian military are convinced that these systems were used to support Georgian combat operations. Consequently, the four Humvees are a non-returnable military trophy under international law.

Russian experts are now meticulously analyzing Humvee equipment. The vehicles could be returned to the United States if it turns out that they were not involved in Georgian combat operations.

The situation is reminiscent of a 1976 incident when Viktor Belenko, a Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat pilot, defected to Japan. U.S. experts also dismantled the sophisticated warplane, analyzed its layout and components, and eventually shipped it back to the Soviet Union.

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(In Part 2: Why Russia and the United States still do military business.)

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(Nikita Petrov is a Russian military commentator. This article is reprinted by permission of the RIA Novosti news agency. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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