TBILISI, May 21 (RIA Novosti) - The second stage of NATO's training exercise in Georgia under the Partnership for Peace program started at the Vaziani military base near Tbilisi on Thursday.
The Cooperative Longbow/Cooperative Lancer 2009 exercises, which Moscow has criticized as unhelpful in the wake of last summer's armed conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, runs until June 1. NATO said earlier the exercise had been planned before the Georgia war and was not aimed against Russia.
The first stage, dubbed Cooperative Longbow, was held at the Vaziani base on May 6-18. It comprised a series of command-and-staff drills involving officers from 13 NATO countries and allies.
According to NATO, the drills in Georgia are aimed at improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries, within the framework of Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative programs, and will not involve any light or heavy weaponry. Russia was invited to take part in the exercises, but declined.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called the NATO drills in Georgia "an open provocation" and said the exercises were assisting Georgia's rearmament after last year's conflict with Russia over South Ossetia.
However, Tbilisi said Georgia has the right to hold any military exercises on its territory as a sovereign state, and the current NATO exercises were a necessary ingredient to attain Georgia's major goal of integration with the North Atlantic alliance.
The Cooperative Lancer exercise will involve up to 1,000 troops and will focus on the training of multinational forces for peacekeeping operations at the battalion level.