As shelling and gunfire punctured a two-day ceasefire in Ukraine, the US's top military official made a rare visit to another former Soviet republic, Georgia.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
© Reuters/Scanpix

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's trip had two aims - reassuring Tiblisi in the face of tremendous upheaval in the region and sending a pointed message to Moscow.

Touring a US military base, Hagel discussed plans to build a training centre, and other ways to shore up Georgia's forces.

He also had other good news - the former Soviet republic now has enhanced status with NATO.

"The enhanced partnership status relationship that Georgia has just received in NATO is going to expand significantly defence capabilities, training, equipping, partnership possibilities for Georgia with all of the NATO partners," according to US Defense Secretary Hagel.

The move brings Georgia closer to full membership - something fiercely opposed by Moscow.

Georgian officials have compared the Ukraine crisis to what happened in 2008 when Russia fought a five-day war with Georgia over a rebel province.

Hagel will now head to Turkey to focus on building a coalition against Islamic State militants.

Reuters

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