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Questions about the Georgian Army

Friday, October 31
The Rose Revolution leaders declared that the process of building a real army was a priority for the country’s development. Huge amounts of money were allotted for this purpose. However the exact details of the expenditure and designation of these sums were strictly confidential and the curious were looked upon with suspicion. ‘Why are you interested on obtaining top secret information?’

The Georgian Army, as we were told and as was demonstrated during the military parades, was the best equipped, disciplined, organized, trained and prepared and was ready to meet any challenges. Indeed there was no comparison between the Saakashvili period solder and one from the previous period, with his hungry look, shabby dress and decrepit armaments. Army regiments, we were told, successfully participated in the peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Kosovo. Millions were also spent on creating an efficient backup reserve force. But many now think that the words and the parades were only a facade disguising a badly organized, corrupt and unprofessional system. The August war has raised many questions about the Army’s ability to actually fight, not just march to and fro.

The administration is limiting its own ability to change things by acknowledging only minor discrepancies between image and reality, problems easy to overcome. The non-Parliamentary opposition and independent analysts think, and are trying to prove, that the problems are more fundamental. The evidence available at the present time, what is written and what can be seen, indicates that the truth lies more with the opposition than the administration.

Since the Rose Revolution the defence budget of the country has increased every year. In 2004 it was GEL 174 million, In 2005 GEL 369 million, in 2006 689 million, in 2007 around GEL 1.5 billion, and more again this year. The Georgian people supported the general state policy in this matter, and paid the taxes which supported it, considering a strong Army as a guarantee of the country’s security and safety, a necessary step to restoring its territorial integrity and a means of compliance with NATO standards. We were told this money was achieving the desired effect, and the evidence of parades indicated this was so.

But the August defeat revealed a different reality. According to all the parameters on which an Army could be judged, it failed: it could not maintain the country’s safety or the people’s security, the hope of restoring territorial integrity became a pipedream for the foreseeable future and the Holy Grail of NATO membership recedes as the Army does. We are now more distant from all of these things than we were before August 7, and the failures of the Army must be held responsible for this.

The authorities told us that the Georgian Army could resist an overwhelming Russian attack for at least several days. It did not. To date however, all the authorities have acknowledged are failures in the intelligence system and reserve provision. “Reservists are our weak point,” confessed Chief of the Joint Staffs Zaza Gogava to the Temporary Investigation Commission on the August war. But independent analysts and the opposition are saying that the Rose Revolution administration made many mistakes prior to the war, which it took the conflict to lay bare.

The authorities ignored signs of corruption in the defence system resulting from the lack of transparency, and then blamed everything on former Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili, now in exile, accusing him of creating a corrupt system. This is the same Okruashvili who President Saakashvili praised several times, calling him as a exemplary Minister. There are many doubts about the quality of the weapons and ammunition purchased by the Ministry of Defence. Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda has published the results of Russian expert testing of the Georgian weapons taken as trophies from the conquered country, which confirm that neither Georgia’s ammunition nor weapons comply with international standards. Military experts could make very serious allegations, giving facts, concerning the huge amounts of money which disappeared during arms deals designed to purchase quality materials which would allow the Army to live up to its inflated reputation.

Another issue which creates concern is personnel flow. Since 2004 there have been four Defence Ministers, each of whom replaced all the previous officials with new ones. The head of the Joint Staffs was changed five times in the same period and there has been an almost complete overhaul of the high-ranking military personnel. Since 2005 more than 2,000 officers have been discharged. Many of them had been previously trained abroad, in Turkey, Germany, USA and so on. Military expert Irakli Sesiashvili asserts with regret that some high ranking positions were occupied by persons with no military education. There is severe criticism of the command of ground operations during the war, communications, logistics, tactical regrouping, organized retreat and many other things. For the sake of the country as a whole, not just the Army, all these issued need to be addressed and resolved in a public and transparent way.

The Georgian Army has been shown to be less effective than its PR indicated. Yet millions were spent on it. When the main purpose of expenditure is to produce good PR, what happens in real life?