Who Is Responsible for Distancing Georgia from NATO?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 210

General Giorgi Kalandadze (Source: RFE/RL)

On November 11, the municipal court in Tbilisi decided to suspend the former chief of the Joint Staff of the armed forces of Georgia, General Giorgi Kalandadze, from office, having thereby satisfied the general prosecutors’ request (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25438). The general is charged with beatings of six soldiers in 2010, while he was in command. Prosecutors had unsuccessfully demanded of the court that General Kalandadze be placed under pre-trial arrest for two months prior to the start of the hearing. However, the court released Kalandadze on bail set at $12,000 (https://ru.reuters.com/article/topNews/idRUMSE8A600O20121107).

At the same time, former Minister of Defense Bacho Akhalaia, in whose office the soldiers were allegedly beaten, will remain in custody (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25422). The court ruled that if Akhalaia is set free, he might either flee justice or intimidate witnesses through threats and violence. Along with Kalandadze, the commander of the fourth brigade of the Georgian armed forces, Zurab Shamtava, was also released on bail for the same amount of money (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25425). The six battered soldiers over whom the charges have been raised served as contracted personnel in Shamtava’s brigade. The reason for the beatings was connected to derogatory remarks about Alkhalaia, Kalandadze and Shamtava that the soldiers made in a conversation, not knowing they were being secretly recorded. One of the battered soldiers testified at the office of the general prosecutors that the defense minister first allowed them to listen to their conversation on his laptop computer and then hit them with a paratrooper knife’s handle.

Experts reckon the three high-ranking military officials probably indeed seriously violated the army’s rules of conduct. However, it is unlikely that those missteps were the true causes of their arrest. “In many countries of the world there have been cases involving a general beating up his subordinate officer or soldier. [However, under those circumstances,] generals are normally either demoted or discharged from the military without a pension. But putting the ex-minister of defense and the acting chief of the Joint Staff in prison is too much,” Nika Imnaishvili, a blogger for the GHN news agency, told Jamestown.

Independent analyst Mikhail Tavkhelidze has no doubts that, in making the arrests, the team of the new Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is trying to deprive President Mikheil Saakashvili of support among the military (https://georgiaonline.ge/news/a1/politics/1352322975.php). “Ex-Minister of Defense Bacho Akhalaia along with General Kalandadze were considered to be Saakasvhili’s closest associates. After [Ivanishvili’s] electoral victory on October 1, the new prime minister of the country asked the president to appoint another person, General [Vakhtang] Kapanadze, as the chief of the Joint Staff. But Saakashvili refused, and then Ivanishvili ordered Kalandadze’s arrest,” Tavkhelidze argues.

The analyst’s evidence is circumstantially supported by the fact that immediately after the court suspended General Kalandadze, the new Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania, who is considered to be close to Prime Minister Ivanishvili, appointed Kapanadze as Chief of the Joint Staff—even though, just one day earlier, President Saakashvili met with Giorgi Kalandadze and in front of television cameras ordered him to continue fulfilling his duties (Rustavi 2, November 10). Formally, Defense Minister Alasania did not break the law, since General Kapanadze is currently only acting chief of the Joint Staff, not a fully-functional head of the office. However, Kapanadze may stay in this temporary capacity for a long time until the president and the prime minister agree on who should fill the position.

The confrontation over the chief of the Joint Staff position as well as the arrests of the three high-ranking military officials have had a negative effect on Georgia’s cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The NATO military committee indefinitely postponed its visit to Tbilisi that was scheduled to take place at the end of November (Civil Georgia, November 9). Although the North Atlantic Alliance has not commented on this decision to date, it is obvious that continuing cooperation has been put on hold because Georgia’s receiving agency, the Joint Staff of the Georgian armed forces, is now in political and administrative limbo. The visit has apparently been suspended until the president and the prime minister settle their differences and end the political tensions around the Georgian armed forces. It is worth noting, however, that modern Georgian history features several cases of the army becoming actively involved in political confrontations; and in January 1992, the armed forces even staged a coup in the country (https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/georgia-1992.htm).

The two opposing political camps are now trying to shift the responsibility for the failed NATO military committee visit on each other. Former State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and United National Movement parliamentary member Georgi Baramidze stated at a special press conference that the arrests of the three military officials have stalled Georgia’s progress toward NATO accession (https://rustavi2.com/news/news_text.php?id_news=47234&pg=1&im=main&ct=0&wth=0). However, Alexi Petriashvili, who replaced Baramidze under the new government, replied that the “former authorities indulge in speculations—in fact the visit by the military committee of NATO has only been postponed” (https://www.georgianjournal.ge/index.php/news/11643–alexi-petriashvili-explains-why-nato-military-committee-delegations-visit-was-postponed). Nevertheless, Petriashvili failed to name even an approximate new date for the NATO committee’s conference in Tbilisi. Possibly, this question will be raised during Ivanishvili’s visit to Brussels where he plans to meet with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Georgia’s prime minister strenuously tries to signal that the stalemate around the chief of the Joint Staff was just an unintended consequence of his political competition with President Saakashvili—even though the rhetoric of the two political rivals apparently indicates that they do not differ at all on the principal question of accession to NATO.