US to build 'stronger military ties' with ex-Soviet Georgia

TBILISI - US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel pledged on Sunday to boost military ties with Georgia amid the unfolding crisis in Ukraine.

"Our shared goal is to build even stronger military ties in the future, particularly in the light of Russia's blatant aggression in Ukraine," Hagel told a press conference in Tbilisi.

Stronger ties between NATO and Georgia "are especially important given the dangerous and irresponsible actions" of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added.

"Russia's actions here and in Ukraine pose a long-term challenge that the United States and our allies take very seriously," he added.

Hagel pledged continued US "commitment" to Georgia's NATO membership bid and "ongoing defence modernisation efforts" adding that Georgia's possible role in a US coalition to fight the Islamic State was also discussed.

Georgia and Russia have long been at loggerheads over Tbilisi's pro-Western orientation and its bid for membership of NATO and the European Union.

Tensions culminated in a brief 2008 war over Georgia's separatist South Ossetia region in which Russian troops overwhelmed Georgia's small military.

The Kremlin subsequently recognised South Ossetia and another secessionist territory, Abkhazia, as independent states and stationed thousands of troops there.

Analysts said that Russia's strategy of partitioning Georgia is now being employed in Ukraine where - the West says - Russian forces are helping rebels fight the Kiev government.