Georgia Prepares To Repel Russian Aggression

Koba Liklikadze

Eurasia Daily Monitor
37February 25, 2009 04:31 PM

The Georgian army, defeated in the five-day war with Russia, is
recovering and preparing to ward off potential Russian aggression. "Our
defenses should be ready to repel potential Russian aggression. All the
military programs and priorities for 2009 will be developed based on
the experience of the Russian war," said Georgian Minister of Defense
Vasil Sikharulidze when he presented the document entitled "The Vision
of the Minister of Defense 2009" to Diplomats, Journalists, and NGOs
at the Sheraton Hotel on February 17 (Rezonansi, February 18, 2009).

Speculation over a possible military provocation by Russia against
Georgia intensified after the statement by Pavel Felgenhauer, a
well-known Russian military analyst, that Russia will try to renew
hostilities with Georgia with the arrival of spring:

While snow covers the Caucasian mountain passes until May, a renewed
war with Georgia is impossible. There is hope in Moscow that the
Georgian opposition may still overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili’s regime
or that the Obama administration will somehow remove him. However,
if by May, Saakashvili remains in power, a military push by Russia
to oust him may be seriously contemplated (EDM, February 12, 2009).

Nevertheless, President Mikheil Saakashvili neither has the intention
to step down nor to giv e in to Russia without resistance. "Russia is
the enemy, whose major, ultimate, and well-defined goal is to finally
break up Georgia and wipe it from the world map," Saakashvili told
the Georgian parliament, adding that he would "make Russia pay for
the displaced population and victims of war" (, February
12, 2009).

Saakashvili’s threat sounds less convincing considering the
country’s lost territories and severe defeat in the five-day war
last summer. Military experts in Georgia agree with this assessment,
namely, that Georgia’s defense capabilities after the August war have
greatly deteriorated and that the 2009 state budget does not adequately
respond to the current military needs. Since the Defense Ministry will
receive only 900 million GEL ($540 million) this year–500 million
GEL less than in the 2008 budget–the country will have to struggle
to replace what was destroyed and will have little left to spend on
developing its forces, analysts say.

In an interview with Jamestown, the former commander of the Georgian
National Guard, retired General Koba Kobaladze, said that "With
the reduced budget, the Defense Ministry can only partly restore the
military’s material losses, and it will require years to turn Georgian
personnel into professional officers to replace those killed in the
war" (interview with the author, February 12, 2009).

At present the Georgian army is much less battle-ready than it was
before August. As a result, "the security and the country’s level of
defense ability are in question" (Georgian Times, February 12, 2009).

Speaking about the losses suffered by the Georgian army in late August
2008, Saakashvili noted that "It will take a year and a half to restore
the military infrastructure destroyed as a result of the Russian
aggression" (Interpress News, August 26, 2008). Hence, Georgia still
places significant hope in its NATO partners, particularly the United
States, with which Georgia signed the Charter on Strategic Partnership
at the beginning of January. It remains far from clear, however, what
Barack Obama’s administration will give priority to–cooperation with
Georgia in defense and security or the development of democracy and the
media, which are perceived to have deteriorated further in 2008 (see,
for example, the Freedom House report, Freedom in the World 2009).

"In Georgia they are not trying to hide [the fact] that reforming
and re-equipping the army is now even more difficult than prior to
the Russia-Georgia war," said Irakli Sesiashvili, a Georgian military
analyst (Prime News Agency, February 16, 2009).

The August war with Russia also revealed the problem of deserters in
the Georgian military structures. The media widely covered the cases
of army deserters who were imprisoned following the August war; naming
up to 50 officers and servicemen (, February 2, 2009).

At the end of January, Georgian military police arrested Colonel David
Asabashvili, the head of Military Engineering Forces, and Colonel
Revaz Sakhvadze, the head of Air Defense of Ground Troops, who were
charged with exceeding their authority (Arsenali, February 21, 2009).

At the same time, however, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has
intensified its efforts to expose the enemies of the country and is
performing the functions of the special services as well. On January
21 two locals of Armenian nationality, Griogor Minasyan and Sarkis
Akobjanyan, were detained.

The two live in the Samtskhe-Javakheti Region of Georgia, which
is densely populated by ethnic Armenians. According to official
information released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, "they were
detained [for] forming an armed unit, its preparation, and espionage"
(, January 23, 2009). The detention of Minasyan and
Akobjanyan was the second arrest on charges of espionage in the
last two years in Georgia. In September 2006 Georgian Special Forces
detained four Russian officers of the Russian Military Headquarters
in Georgia. The detentions received widespread coverage in the media,
and an attempt to turn the arrests into a public relations show, was
soon followed by a rapid deterioration in relations between Russia
and Georgia, which ended in the massive deportation of Georgians from
Russia and the suspension of air connections between the two countries
(Arsenali, February 21, 2009).

0ANational television channels have tried to improve Georgia’s
tarnished image by providing extensive coverage of a new recruiting
drive, under which some 600 soldiers are already being trained, as
well as reporting about the formation of a new artillery brigade to
be armed with Israeli, Czech, and other modern weapons.

Otherwise, dozens of Russian tanks and artillery systems, fully ready
for attack, are located in Akhalgori district, some 35 kilometers
(22 miles) from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. And nobody knows
who will pull the trigger first.

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