Almost every day, Georgian television airs government-sponsored ads inviting Georgians to join the mighty Georgian army. While, this patriotic display tries to create a rosy picture of Georgia’s military potential, the reality is more alarming than inspiring.
This week over 40% of the Georgian military’s 1st Brigade, elite commandos drilled under the U.S.-sponsored Train and Equip program, refused to renew their military service contracts, branding them “unacceptable.”
Although defense officials insist that the re-enlistment issue would not affect the army’s combat readiness, the reduced numbers of experienced personnel in the Georgian army without adequate replacements appears alarming. Some contract servicemen with the brigade secretly admitted to Alia that many soldiers had not renewed their contracts due to the rampant mistreatment of soldiers. They said that many jobless young people had enlisted in the army after watching the television ads, but upon enlistment found a situation completely different from what the ads had promised (Alia, October 12; Interfax-AVN, October 11).
The newspaper has investigated claims that money and food shortages in the armed forces continue despite changes at the Ministry of Defense and within the army’s leadership ranks. Soldiers have complained that as soon as responsibility for Train and Equip was transferred to Georgia, the meals and living conditions deteriorated. The Justice and Freedom NGO, which monitors soldiers’ rights, has confirmed abuses in the army (Alia, September 25). Moreover, journalists complain that the Defense Ministry’s press service blocks information about conditions in the armed forces.
Giorgi Tavdgiridze, former rector of the Georgian Military Academy, has revealed numerous wrongdoings in the armed forces. (Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili recently downgraded the Academy to a training center, depriving its students of the opportunity to become officers.) The rector argued that the defense system is in the hands of amateurs and functions are not clearly separated. Consequently, Tavdgiridze says, Okruashvili, a civilian, can continuously interfere in purely military affairs and manage the army according to personal whims.
Tavdgiridze dismissed Chief of the Joint Staff Levan Nikolaishvili, a former security officer without sufficient military experience, as Okruashvili’s puppet. He said that Okruashvili has filled many key posts in the Defense Ministry with police officers from the Interior Ministry, his former base. According to Tavdgiridze, there is no civilian control over the Defense Ministry, and the parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security and the National Security Council have zero influence. Okruashvili actually prepares all of the military decrees issued by President Mikheil Saakashvili, he said. Millions spent on army needs have not been reflected by improved combat readiness or improved military infrastructure, including barracks, munitions, and other facilities, Tavdgiridze added (Alia, October 5).
On September 23, a Tbilisi court remanded three former senior employees from the Defense Ministry’s Department of Logistics, Mamuka Lomsadze, Davit Natroshvili, and Besarion Bukvaidze, for three months of pre-trial detention. They were arrested September 22 on charges of importing faulty infantry combat vehicles from Ukraine in 2004 and abuse of power, which cost the state GEL 595,000 ($330,555). Of the 40 units of equipment received, 38 were determined to be unfit during the Armor-2005 military maneuvers at the Orfolo training ground in July (TV- Imedi, September 22; Prime News, September 23) Bukvaidze, Natroshvili, and Lomsadze worked at the Defense Ministry under Okruashvili’s predecessor, Giorgi Baramidze, and the two men remain rivals (see EDM, January 11). Kviris Palitra (October 2) reported that Nikolaishvili had been in charge of logistics while serving as deputy chief of staff in 2004 and was directly responsible for approving this military purchase.
The faulty infantry combat vehicles in question arrived in Georgia in January, and the fact that it took months to determine that they were defective is alarming itself. Some military analysts suggest that the damage might have resulted from improper use of the equipment. Kviris Palitra discovered a delivery report stating that the vehicles were in perfect operating condition when they were delivered, and the weekly suggested that the vehicles were damaged due to improper handling by newly recruited and inexperienced soldiers (Kviris Palitra, September 25, October 2).
Arresting scapegoats such as the three from the Logistics Department will not improve the Georgian defense system, which analysts say has long needed systemic changes, including the elimination of nepotism in personnel policy. Violations of military discipline have been on the rise in recent months. The hushed-up scuffle between two battalions in Gori and desertions over unbearable living conditions and other abuses reveal the real situation in the army. Continuing military problems will also undermine Okruashvili’s considerable political the ambitions (see EDM March 31, April 22).
Georgia’s military spending in 2006 reportedly will exceed GEL 300 million (about $167 million) and make up about 10% of the state budget (Alia, October 5; 24 Saati, September 21). This increase might be a reflection of the arms race with Georgia’s breakaway regions. The Abkhaz and Ossetian separatists do not hide the fact that Russia generously equips them with modern weaponry (Resonance, October 11; Kommersant.ru, Ekho Moskvy, September 24). But money wasted rather than invested will not help Tbilisi increase Georgia’s military readiness.