|Russia calls U.S.-Georgia army exercises "provocative"|
|March 14, 2012|
MOSCOW, March 14 (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that joint military training between the United States and Georgia which began last week was "provocative" and unhelpful in such an unstable region.
Russia fought a brief war against the pro-Western Black Sea country in 2008, and relations remain strained over Moscow's diplomatic recognition of two breakaway regions at the centre of the five-day conflict.
"I brought this to the serious attention of (U.S.) Secretary of State (Clinton), because it all looks somewhat provocative," Lavrov said, referring to the presence of some 300 U.S. Marines in Georgia for joint training manoeuvres.
"We hope such things will be decided not only from the point of view of rewarding Georgia for sending ... its soldiers to Afghanistan, but also from the point of view of stability in this very very fragile region," he told lawmakers in the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.
Georgia has 900 soldiers serving in an international fighting force in Afghanistan, including 750 based in Helmand, the country's most violent region.
Russia is sensitive to U.S. activity in Georgia, a country on its southern border that the Kremlin has traditionally viewed as part of its own sphere of influence.
Since their 2008 war, Russia and Georgia have traded hostile rhetoric. The conflict erupted when Russia crushed an assault by Georgia's U.S.-trained military on the pro-Russian rebel region of South Ossetia.
Moscow subsequently recognised the region as well as another breakaway territory, Abkhazia, as independent.
Georgia and Russia still have no diplomatic relations as a result and communicate through Swiss diplomats.
Georgia has gradually increased its contingent in Afghanistan over the past three years, after it withdrew 2,000 troops from Iraq in 2008.
It plans to send an additional battalion to Afghanistan this year. It will become the biggest non-NATO contributor to the International Security Assistance Force once the new battalion arrives.
Georgia and the United States hold joint training exercises every year.
(Reporting By Thomas Grove, Additional reporting by Margarita
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