Georgia’s Defense Minister, Lieutenant-General Vardiko Nadibaidze, resigned yesterday at the request of President Eduard Shevardnadze. An emergency meeting of the National Security Council–chaired by Shevardnadze–held Nadibaidze responsible for two recent security lapses which potentially endangered the president.
On April 26, when Shevardnadze with a sixty-strong delegation flew on the presidential plane to Turkey for a tripartite regional summit (see The Monitor, April 27), the Defense Ministry failed to provide the escort of two Su-25 fighter-bombers. The two planes were disabled by unidentified perpetrators who poured sand and rocks in the engines. The sabotage occurred on a Russian military airfield, where the two Georgian planes had just been moved from the their normal station, the airfield of the Georgian aircraft plant outside Tbilisi.
The two escort planes are meant to thwart a possible ground-to-air missile attack against the presidential plane during takeoff or landing. Shevardnadze instituted this escort after last February’s assassination attempt against him, when circumstantial evidence suggested that an attack with Strela missiles against the presidential airplane may have been planned as well.
The other lapse blamed on Nadibaidze occurred during the February hostage crisis, when a battalion of twenty tanks stationed outside Tbilisi failed to move into the city as ordered. Most of those tanks had just been disabled by having the oil poured out of their engines. That battalion commander, as it turned out, was the brother of one member of the assassination squad.
Shevardnadze informed the country yesterday that he is releasing Nadibaidze from his post because of these failures, and “notwithstanding his great contribution to the creation of the Georgian army.” The president nominated Colonel Davit Tevzadze, currently head of the Main Military Inspectorate, for the post of defense minister. Other reports indicate that Deputy Defense Minister Guram Nikolaishvili, Border Guards Commander Valery Chkheidze and Army Major-General Johnny Pirtskhalaishvili are also under consideration. (Radio Tbilisi, Russian agencies, April 27-28)
Nadibaidze had enjoyed good personal relations with parts of the Russian military hierarchy. With Shevardnadze’s approval, Nadibaidze had sought to obtain Russian military assistance in order to develop the Georgian army, at a time when Western support was not yet available. Unlike Nadibaidze, Tevzadze is seen as a Western-oriented officer: He reportedly underwent training in 1996-97 at the U.S. War College. The change of ministers reflects Georgia’s growing relations with the United States and other NATO countries in the military and security area.
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