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Defence expenditure – does it add up?

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, January 22
The recent decision of the Russian leadership to ban arms sales to Georgia has created interest in analyzing the arms situation here. Georgia spends big amounts, if not huge for such a small country, on its defence. It would be interesting to know exactly what the results of this expenditure have been and what the Government’s future expenditure plans are.

On January 19 President Medvedev of Russia signed a decree which bans the export to Georgia of weapons, military equipment and material connected with them, or any other item which may be used for military purposes. It also envisages breaking off any kind of cooperation, either in military-technical or military-economic spheres, with countries which sell Russian or Soviet-made arms to Georgia. This decree will remain in force until December 1, 2011. However the Georgian authorities and several experts consider the Russian President’s decision to be merely formalistic, because for several years Georgia has not bought any kind of military equipment from Russia. So why issue such a decree?

Military expert Koba Liklikadze states that currently Georgia has no military links with Russia and sees Medvedev’s decision as a political initiative, designed to show the world that Georgia is a militarily dangerous country. However the essential part of the decree is the clause that forbids other countries from selling Russian or Soviet-made equipment or ammunition to Georgia, and threatening to cease military co-operation with them if they do. How far Russia can go in dictating arms policy to other countries has yet to be seen. But it is clear that Medvedev’s decree is a direct attempt to put pressure on the countries which have previously sold Georgia arms. Though we no longer buy arms from Russia itself, military expert Giorgi Tavdgiridze says that 95% of Georgia’s present armaments are Russian or Soviet made and most of these were bought not from Russia but Ukraine, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

Ukraine reacted to the decree immediately. President Yushchenko’s party Nasha Ukraina declared it would ignore Russia’s ultimatum. MP Andrey Porub said that Medvedev’s initiative is yet another attempt to put pressure on Ukraine and expressed his confidence that Ukraine would ignore such diktats. However it may not be that easy to do this. If Ukraine continues supplying Georgia with Russian-made equipment there could be serious reprisals from the Russian side and problems with the country’s pro-Russian population. Again, whether Ukraine is prepared to take considerable risks to continue opposing Russia remains to be seen, and its position in the recent gas war suggests it is susceptible to Russian blackmail.

As for Georgia, once again the crucial question arises: why has Georgia remained dependent on Russian arms instead of transforming its armed forces into Western-style ones? If the country wants to be NATO compatible why did it not spend the huge amount of money it has on Western equipment? The Georgian administration has a ready answer: Western countries, apart from Israel, have refrained from selling arms to Georgia. This is a strange situation, given that several Western countries have supported Georgia’s ambition to join NATO, and therefore have an army fit to do so. As military expert Irakli Sesiashvili says, once and for all Georgia must now adopt a military system compliant with NATO standards.

The real problem which might arise as the result of the decree is where Georgia will purchase spare parts for its existing equipment from, if Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Ukraine are scared away by Russian pressure. But at the root of this problem is the question of how the defence budget was used. Georgian military experts have been almost unanimous in demanding that the defence expenditure of previous years is investigated in detail. They think that inefficient expenditure of huge amounts of money resulted in Georgia’s military failures in August. This is one of the most serious points raised by the opposition when accusing the current administration of mismanagement, or worse. It would certainly improve public confidence in the administration if it could demonstrate, via investigation, that it had spent defence funds wisely and well.

There is a hope that as a result of Medvedev’s decree Georgia will receive compensatory military assistance from the USA and other NATO countries. However this could mean that Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic get rid of their stocks of Russian arms by selling them to Georgia under this programme, which would not result in the upgrade the army badly needs. This possibility presents yet another challenge to Georgia.