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Passing the Hat Round: Georgia collected enough money to create an army brigade

11.11.2005 15:03

According to agreements reached between Russia and Georgia, the Russian military presence in Georgia is due to end by the end of 2008. The ousting of the Russian troops is accompanied by a rapid rise of NATO's influence and presence in that country.

...No sooner had the Russian military pulled out all its hardware from Adjaria, than the NATO military promptly entrenched itself in the region. September 3 a presentation of the first in Georgia NATO information center was held in Batumi. Similar NATO centers will be opened also in Tbilisi and Telavi, the administrative center of Kakhetia. The main task of the centers is to inform the public about the policy and practical activities of the alliance, and to influence the public opinion in support of the government's course aimed at integrating the country into that international military-political organization. To ensure the NATO centers' normal work, 90,000 Lari ($50,000) have been allotted for the purpose in Georgia's 2005 budget.

Military experts see yet another objective in the opening of the NATO information centers in Georgia - that is to monitor the movements and contacts of the Russian troops still remaining in the country. As is known, NATO has long been insisting on a speedy closure of the Russian military bases in Georgia and seemingly is not indifferent to how that process will fare in future.

The US and NATO have long since been patronizing Georgia. The US president during his visit to Tbilisi last May highly praised that country. In his opinion, the "rose revolution" was one of the most important events of modern history. He also noted that "the US has strategic relations with Georgia" and "the US is Georgia's most reliable partner" that will provide it "with its full support in the question of the country's integration into NATO".

George Bush did not content himself with praise alone, for he is a man of his word. He requested that Congress allocate $80.2 million for aid to Georgia, of them $12 million for "defense supplies" and $1.2 million for military training. Those allocations supplement the various programs often masked as aid provided by private funds. As is known, the fifth part (21 percent) of all US military aid to the ex-USSR republics goes to Georgia. In 2002-04 the US spent $64 million to create 4 special-purpose battalions of mountain riflemen (2,750 men). Under another program, $60 million will be spent on creating a US-type mechanized brigade (3,000 men). All in all, the programs are scheduled to run for 10 years and will cover 10,000 servicemen.

Another Georgia's financial sponsor in the military field is Turkey, which spent over $40 million in military aid to Georgia since 1997.

Other NATO countries or close partners of the alliance are also making considerable contributions to Georgia's militarization. In many cases this contribution has been made free of charge. For example, nearly all of Georgia's navy consists of vessels given to it as gifts. Thus Ukraine gave Georgia a patrol boat of the "Grif" type and a missile-carrying launch, "Konotop". Bulgaria presented one boat, and Greece two boats and a small missile-carrying ship. Greece also provides for repairing, free of charge, Georgian boats and training its seamen and ship repair personnel. The US allocated over $20 million for modernizing the Georgian navy and presented five boats to it. Lithuania has promised to hand over both of its frigates - the "Jemaitis" and the "Aukstaitis".

Naturally, the Georgian leadership itself is investing large budgetary funds in the army build-up. According to defense minister Irakly Okruashvili, "this year Georgia has the biggest military budget among Southern Caucasus states ? about $78 million, which is equal to the country's total yearly budget at the time of Shevardnadze". In 2006 the finance ministry proposes to raise the military spending still higher, bringing it up to $220 million. The growth is nearly three-fold. Why should a poverty-stricken country like Georgia need such a huge military budget?

Experts and politicians believe that the militarization of the budget and of the country as a whole has one basic objective in view, that is to gain strength for crushing the separatist regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I. Okruashvili claims that his country is nearing that objective. "By the end of 2005 Georgia will have an army capable of accomplishing the mission the President set forth when he made me defense minister", said Okruashvili last April. Also the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia themselves are certain that one day Georgia will pass from words to deeds in an attempt "to finally crush separatism".

At the same time, many experts express doubts about the quality of the weapons purchased for the Georgian army - the army of a state potentially a member of NATO. The point is that the weapons and equipment Georgia is buying for its army come from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, which are just getting rid of their outdated war arsenals incompatible with NATO standards. For example, Georgia's military police is investigating why all of the 40 armored personnel carriers BMP-2 bought from Ukraine failed at the recent September war games. If it becomes established that the vehicles were sold with defects, what excuse will the politicians in Tbilisi give? The armaments may turn out to be nothing but old junk, not a means of intimidating Sukhumi and Tskhinvali.

The Georgian army has other problems as well, which hardly meets the army standards set forth for a NATO member country. Among these problems are corruption, misappropriation, slack discipline, and desertion. Take, for example, the recent embarrassing case of the most renowned service-woman of the Georgian army, first lieutenant Nei Kapanadze, who defected to the US while on a mission to that country. Deserting the army, she preferred the position of a waitress in the US to a military career in Georgia.

But these are, of course, small things. The really important thing, as viewed by the Georgian minister of defense, is that "already in the fall of 2006 Georgia may become a candidate for NATO membership". After that, it will be only one step to the fully-fledged membership of the alliance and, hence, to the possible appearance of NATO military bases on Georgian soil. But this eventuality will hardly contribute to the stabilization of the situation in the Transcaucasia.