United States Freezes Military Cooperation With Georgia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 105

(Source: US Army Europe)

Executive Summary:

  • The United States announced an indefinite postponement of joint military exercises with Georgia that were originally scheduled for the end of July due to Tbilisi’s adoption of the Russian-style “foreign agents” law.
  • Georgia is heavily reliant on Western, specifically US and EU, funding for its defense sector. The postponing of support will critically affect Georgia’s standing in the South Caucasus, where it believes the United States is its only ally.
  • Tbilisi and Washington are hoping for transitions in power of the other’s government, which would help further their own agendas through an anti-Russian opposition government in Georgia and potential US presidential administration that would ignore Georgia’s growing authoritarian tendencies.

On July 5, the Pentagon announced an indefinite cancellation of joint drills with Georgia’s multinational military exercises, namely the “Noble Partner” drills originally planned to run from July 25 to August 6. The US Department of Defense indicated that “now is not the right time to conduct large-scale military exercises in Georgia” (US Department of Defense, July 5). These exercises have been held on Georgian territory since 2016. They are an important component of strengthening Georgia’s defense capabilities and demonstrating a strong defense partnership with the United States. The Pentagon’s decision to cancel the drills not only significantly damages Georgia’s reputation as a reliable partner but also deals a serious blow to the country’s defense capabilities, which crucially depend on Western assistance. The new development comes as the ruling Georgian Dream party has taken a more authoritarian course and raises serious concerns about Georgia’s future security (see EDM, April 9, May 22).

The Pentagon explains that the suspension is due to “false accusations against the United States and other Western entities” (US Department of Defense, July 5). This statement refers to the Georgian government’s claims that the United States allegedly demanded that Georgia open a second front against Russia and allegedly twice participated in coup attempts against the ruling party (US Department of Defense, July 5). Before the Pentagon’s decision, the US State Department announced a review of bilateral relations with Georgia and the introduction of visa sanctions against representatives of the Georgian Dream government in response to the Georgian parliament’s approval of the Russian-style “foreign agents” law” (US State Department, May 23)

Despite the recent deterioration in the US-Georgia relationship, Tbilisi did not expect that a complete review of bilateral relations would affect defense cooperation. The first indicator for the cooling of military ties between the two sides became evident on May 26, when, during the celebration of Georgian Independence Day, US military personnel suddenly refused to take part in the ceremonial events, as has traditionally happened in recent years (Civil.ge, June 10).

The Georgian Ministry of Defense expressed regret over the cancellation of the military exercises and reminded the United States that both Tbilisi and Washington would suffer from this decision. The Georgian Defense Ministry stated that international exercises, including “Noble Partner 2024,” benefit Georgia, the United States, and all participating partner countries, as they claim it “helps strengthen defense capabilities, develop military capabilities, raises professionalism, and increases mutual understanding” (Georgian Defense Ministry, July 5). The Georgian ruling elite had been confident that Georgia was still the only stable and trusted partner in South Caucasus for the United States, especially in regards to military cooperation. Therefore, despite the anti-American rhetoric of the ruling Georgian Dream, they fully expected Washington would try to maintain these close ties with Tbilisi.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced similar military exercises to be carried out in Armenia (US Army Europe and Africa, July 6). Some observers saw this as the United States searching for an alternative partner to Georgia in this region. Strengthening its military cooperation with Armenia, however, indicates that Washington has no intention of leaving Georgia. Keeping Georgia as an ally ease US efforts to build closer ties with Yerevan, given their geographic proximity. Notably, the Pentagon statement expressed hope that US-Georgian military training will resume in 2025.

Sozar Subari stated that Georgia is being treated unfairly and that the purpose of the canceled military exercises is to affect the October parliamentary elections in Georgia (Interpressnews.ge, July 9). Subari is a representative of the radical pro-Russian wing of the ruling Georgian Dream party and identifies with the “People’s Power” bloc within parliament (i.e., those who act most synchronously with the Kremlin). This statement coincided with a report from Russian state news agency TASS, citing the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). It claimed that “Washington is determined to seek a change of power in Georgia following the results of the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections in October” (TASS, July 9).

The Georgian opposition and local media called the cancellation of joint military exercises a “catastrophe on a national scale” that would result in serious consequences and weaken the country’s defense capabilities (Facebook/Mtavari Arkhi, July 7). Additionally, local media are reporting that the entry about Georgia has completely disappeared from the draft of the 2025 US National Defense Authorization Act, likely meaning that the Georgian Armed Forces will not receive any money in military assistance from the United States in 2025.

Many believe that this will have a domino effect. After the United States, other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members will begin to reduce military aid to Georgia. Following the Pentagon’s cancellation of military exercises, Denmark suspended military assistance to Georgia worth approximately 27 million Georgian lari ($9.84 million) (YouTube/TV Pirveli, July 9). The worst development for the Georgian ruling elite was the announcement on July 9 that the EU accession process for Georgia has been stopped for the time being. Brussels also froze 30 million euros ($32.6 million) in support for Georgia as part of the European Peace Facility (EPF) (Facebook.com/EUinGeorgia, July 9). This amount was planned to be allocated through the EPF created in 2021 to support EU security policy around the world. The EPF, after its establishment in December 2021, allocated 12.75 million euros ($13.87 million) to Georgia, followed by 20 million euros ($21.75 million) in December 2022 and 30 million euros ($32.63 million) in May 2023 to support the Georgian Defense Forces (Netgazeti.ge, July 9).

EU Ambassador to Georgia Pawel Herczynski indirectly hinted that perhaps the 30 million euros ($32.63 million) would be spent on strengthening Georgian civil society instead. Deputy Chairman of the Georgian Parliament George Volski declared this development “damages the authority of the European Union” (Interpressnews.ge, July 9). Shalva Papuashvili, chair of the Georgian Parliament, responded by demonstrating Georgia’s past military cooperation with the European Union. He pointed out, “In 2014, when the European Union could not find in its member states those willing to participate in the military mission in the Central African Republic, Georgia [according to the decision of the Georgian Dream government] sent 150 soldiers, saving this EU mission from failure” (Facebook.com/shpapuashvili/, July 9).

The crisis between the ruling elite of Georgia and the West is rapidly growing and may only be resolved with a change of power in Georgia. Georgia’s ruling party, on the contrary, hopes for a change of power in the United States during the upcoming presidential elections. The ruling Georgian Dream is seemingly rooting for former US President Donald Trump, as government propaganda media is reassuring supporters that a Trump victory will trigger a “reset” of relations with the United States. Pro-government media recall that the Trump administration did not pay any much attention to Georgia’s authoritarian tendencies, and the strategic partnership between the two countries continued (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 10). Georgian Dream also had illusions about the recent European parliamentary elections and had hoped for the victory of political forces more sympathetic to its cause. Those hopes did not materialize. The same may be true for its hopes on the upcoming US presidential elections. This will be an important story to follow as US relations with Georgia are a critical aspect of geopolitics in the South Caucasus and in combating Russian influence, which will likely grow as Georgian Dream continues to hold power in Georgia.