Kerry visits Georgia, Ukraine to show solidarity

TBILISI, Georgia — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Georgia and Ukraine to reassure the former Soviet republics of America’s commitment to their security amid unease over Russia’s intentions.

Kerry was in Tbilisi on Wednesday for talks with top Georgian officials and will sign a new joint military and security cooperation agreement that will boost U.S. training and equipment supplies to Georgian security forces defending their borders.

Kerry then heads to Kiev for similar talks with Ukrainian officials before joining President Barack Obama in Poland for a summit of NATO leaders.

Georgia and Ukraine are both deeply worried about Russian activities on their territory and have sought closer ties with the West, including association with the European Union and the prospect of NATO membership.

“Obviously we have great respect for your desires as a country to be able to look to the West and engage with the West without punishment, without retribution,” Kerry said as he met with Georgian Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili and members of his cabinet.

Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in 2008 over the Georgian territory of South Ossetia, which remains under Moscow’s control, along with the enclave of Abkhazia. Ukraine, meanwhile, is currently battling Russian-backed separatists in its east following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry said the visits to Tbilisi and Kiev were intended primarily as a signal of U.S. backing for Georgia and Ukraine but suggested that Moscow should take note.

“Russia can take whatever message it would like from this, but it’s obviously a message of support and reassurance for their Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the trip publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.