RFE/RL: NATO members, partners join forces in Georgian drills

Pence's visits to Estonia, Georgia and Montenegro are taking place amid spiraling tensions with Russian Federation after President Vladimir Putin said the US must slash staff at its diplomatic missions by 755, or almost two-thirds, in retaliation for new sanctions approved by Congress. On Friday, the White House said Trump meant to sign the bill.

Pence directly addressed the Russian troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, saying the "U.S. strongly condemns Russian occupation of Georgian soil".

At an official dinner in the Georgian capital late on July 31, Pence said, "We stand with you, for your freedom and for our shared values".

Around 800 Georgian and 1600 U.S. troops are taking part in the Noble Partner 2017 drills.

"Our message to the Baltic states - my message when we visit Georgia and Montenegro- will be the same: to our allies here in Eastern Europe, we are with you", said Pence.

Two-thirds of Georgians support joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation while 23 percent are opposed, according to a survey conducted by the Caucasus Resource Research Centers for the National Democratic Institute. On Tuesday, the United States vice president is also expected to visit USA and Georgian troops participating in the Noble Partner drills in Georgia.

Earlier, he met the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for talks on security and regional issues.

While in the country, Pence is set to review joint military drills that are being billed as the largest ever held between the USA and Georgia.

"No threat looms larger in the Baltic states than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east", Pence said. "Today Russia continues to occupy one fifth of Georgia's territory".

In a visit to Baltic State Estonia on Monday Pence insisted that a retaliatory move taken by the Kremlin in the face of the looming sanctions to cut the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russian Federation would not lessen Washington's commitment to its allies.

In Georgia, officials said Pence will highlight US support for the Caucasus nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity before continuing on to Montenegro.

After the U.S. Senate last week approved new sanctions on Russia, Moscow announced counter-measures, included cutting the total number of personnel employed in U.S. diplomatic and consular offices in Russia, and suspending the use of a summer residence in Moscow.

Vanessa Coleman

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