Russia is sitting on the fence

Agency WPS
February 4, 2005, Friday


WPS observer

The Russian Defense Ministry has handed over the Tbilisi Armored
Vehicle Repair Plant to the balance of the Georgian Defense Ministry,
the Russian and Georgian media reported of late. Colonel Levan
Nikolaishvili, deputy chief of the Georgian General Staff, and
Colonel Andrei Popov, deputy chief of the headquarters of the Russian
Group of Forces in the Caucasus (GRVZ) signed the corresponding
agreement on February 2. Under the agreement, Russia is obliged to
repay the debt to the Georgian budget for communal services and
renting. Tbilisi is saying that the plant was allegedly handed over
in the framework of the Istanbul agreements of 1999 on withdrawal of
the Russian military bases and military hardware from Georgia. This
is not entirely so, since in Istanbul the matter only concerned
withdrawal of the Russian military bases from Vaziani and Gudauta and
granting permission for temporary deployment of Russian bases in
Akhalkalaki and Batumi. The documents signed in Istanbul mention no
other military objects, including a military plant. Thus, handing
over the tank repair plant has been the initiative of Moscow.

The observers have already assessed negative effects of this action.
Firstly, according to observers with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, until
lately under repair in Tbilisi have been Georgian and Russian tanks,
as well as the armored vehicles for the Armenian army. In this
connection official Baku accused Georgia several years ago of giving
military aid to the unfriendly Yerevan. Baku then refused to accept
an offer of such services for the Azerbaijani army in Baku, initiated
by Georgia and the GRVZ command. It is clear now that the enterprise
has been the property of Georgia and it will be harder for Yerevan to
repair its tanks.

Secondly, Vladimir Popov, academician at the Academy of Military
Sciences, told WPS, “handing over a Russian tank repair plant to
Georgia by the GRVZ means that Moscow is indirectly supporting
preparation of the Georgian troops for invasion in South Ossetia and
Abkhazia.” Popov reminds that in June 1992 Russia already handed over
military plants, objects and armored hardware of the former Soviet
Trans-Caucasian Military District to Georgia (modern tanks included).
Several weeks later these tanks took part in the fratricidal war on
approaches to Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. The situation differs now.
However, the Georgian president doesn’t rule out the script of
subduing the intractable autonomies by force. In this case the
specialists won’t have time to idle at the tank repair plant.

Evident is the situation when Russia has initiated the loss of its
geopolitical and military influence in Georgia to some extent.
Undoubtedly, detached repair battalions are included into GRVZ units.
However, they are unable to perform mid-life and major repair of
combatant vehicles. It means the Russian General Staff has doomed the
military hardware of the GRVZ to slow extinction. As is widely known,
Georgia is trying as hard as it can to weaken the GRVZ. Other steps
linked to reducing the number of Russian military objects in this
country will follow the above action.

Perhaps Moscow is not insisting on the long-term stay of its military
bases in Georgia and plans to change their profile into peacekeeping
or anti-terrorist centers. In opinion of Russian Defense Minister
Sergei Ivanov, “such centers must have nothing in common with
military bases. This could be an utterly different form of military
co-operation, which meets the Russian-Georgian interests and promotes
resolution of the problems available,” the minister said. It is not a
secret that Georgia is after NATO membership and is increasing its
armed forces with the aid of the USA. Georgia’s military budget is
about $65 million now. In 2005 the Pentagon intends to allocate $60
million more for a year-long training of four battalions in Georgia.
The Pentagon had already allocated $64 million in the framework of
the Training & Equip program earlier, which were used to train four
army special force battalions and several units for other security
structures. All these units are being used in Iraq now. The observers
don’t rule out that on gaining experience the Georgian commandos
might commence hostilities against Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Translated by Andrei Ryabochkin