Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 36

Last week two events highlighted the unstable situation in the Georgian armed forces. The army’s supreme command shuffled its top personnel yet again and “Justice and Freedom,” a military watchdog group, released a report criticizing the government’s performance in the field of defense from January 25, 2004 to January 25, 2005.

On February 16, Justice and Freedom chairman Irakli Sesiashvili addressed a news conference about what he considers to be the government’s failure to reform the military and the misappropriation of defense funds. “The state lacks concrete plan for army reform,” Sesiashvili said. He pointed out that President Mikheil Saakashvili’s statements about army restructuring are not reflected in official documents and mostly remain unfulfilled. Moreover, the association argues that Saakashvili’s government has yet to elaborate a new national security concept and military doctrine.

The association argues that the Defense Ministry has not managed to separate civilian and military units. Even worse, the frequent turnover in the office of minister of defense routinely changed the military’s mandate to reflect personal interests. One negative result of the reshuffling is the confused division of responsibilities, argued Shalva Tadumadze, a Justice and Freedom lawyer.

The association’s report shows that, despite the government’s promise to eradicate corruption in the army, nepotism and influence trading are still prevalent. Plans to merge police interior troops with the army have changed as many as three times in order to find a satisfactory post for General Giorgi Tavtukhashvili, formerly the president’s chief bodyguard. The watchdog group revealed that during the course of only one year, Tavtukhashvili received three military ranks in succession. The report also criticized the widely advertised process of training reservists, a program to which the government has allocated approximately $1.9 million.

The Justice and Liberty Association argued that the changing defense ministers and the struggle for power has hampered the performance of all divisions of the ministry. In sum, increased budgets for the armed forces have not brought adequate results. “The reform implemented in the army is far from the actual reform idea. Reform doesn’t exist.”

The report presented information about government outlays for expensive cars for top military officials, costly remodeling of their apartments, and other expenses for their personal comfort. Meanwhile, the report continues, social conditions in the military units still remain poor. The government still owes insurance benefits to the families of the servicemen who were killed or injured during the August 2004 military campaign in South Ossetia.

The association sharply criticized current Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and accused him of favoritism in personnel policy. According to the association, as many as 60 policemen have been appointed to leading posts in the army’s General Staff and defense ministry. Okruashvili led Interior before becoming defense minister. The association charges that Okruashvili, who has a reputation for honesty, actually indulges in luxury living just like his predecessors.

Okruashvili, reputedly Saakashvili’s closest adviser, evidently exceeded his authorities and violated Article 73 of the Constitution, according to which only President Saakashvili, as Commander-in-Chief, is authorized to appoint and fire the Chief of the General Staff. On February 9, Okruashvili charged the General Staff’s senior officers with political unreliability and underperformance and demanded their immediate resignation. On February 15, the leadership of the General Staff duly resigned, and Saakashvili formalized the act on February 18 by dismissing Vakhtang Kapanadze, chief of the General Staff, and replacing him with Levan Nikolaishvili, Kapanadze’s deputy.

On August 25, 2004, after Georgia’s failed military campaign in breakaway South Ossetia, the U.S.-educated Kapanadze replaced Russia-educated Givi Iukuridze as chief of the General Staff. Saakashvili explained the change by the need to strengthen the General Staff with Western-educated officers to bring the Georgian army in line with NATO standards.

Saakashvili’s spokesperson linked the current reshuffle with the ongoing reforms in the Georgian army. However, no official explanation has been presented about why Kapanadze and other senior officers of the General Staff were not able to implement the reforms. Ironically, the embattled Kapanadze has been appointed as Saakashvili’s aide for military issues and will now oversee Okruashvili’s reforms in the Georgian armed forces.

Okruashvili’s authoritarian and largely unprofessional style of management has been criticized by independent military analysts who argue that his behavior runs counter to NATO standards. Symptomatically, Okruashvili has yet to present any evidence of the alleged financial abuses by his predecessor’s team, which he trumpeted only last month (see EDM, January 11). Against the background of persistent problems in the Georgian army, most of which appear to have been political in nature (see EDM June 10, 21, August 31, September 2, October 25, 2004), forecasts by some officials that the Georgian army will achieve NATO standards in three or four years seem more than doubtful.

The ongoing mass firing of middle-ranking officers from the armed forces without any compensation is another problem that may return to haunt the government.

(24 Saati, February 17; Civil Georgia, InterPress, February 18; Week’s Palette, February14-20; Rustavi-2 TV, February 15; Imedi-TV, August 25, 2004;, December 17, 2004).