Two classified diplomatic dispatches from series of leaked U.S. embassy cables give a rare glimpse of discussions, which were underway last year among U.S. diplomats on scope of military cooperation with Georgia.
In June, 2009 cables released by Wikileaks - one originating from the U.S. embassy in Moscow and another from the embassy in Tbilisi - the two ambassadors are spelling out their positions on the matter with ambassador in Moscow warning Washington that robust military cooperation with Tbilisi might put at risk policy of reset with Russia and his Tbilisi-based counterpart arguing in favor of providing Georgia "a modest, transparent defensive capability."
John R. Beyrle, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, wrote in a cable dated with June 17, 2009, that a lethal military supply to Georgia would come "at the cost of advancing Georgia's territorial integrity, and could lessen Russian restraint on weapons transfers to Iran."
Beyrle argues, that Washington's military assistance to Georgia should be limited with providing non-lethal military assistance, training and other equipment aimed at Georgia's basic requirements to control its borders, maintain law and order and counter-terrorism capabilities.
"We believe that keeping the focus on Georgia's economic and democratic development, while continuing our military cooperation with Tbilisi through transparent [NATO Partnership for Peace] PfP programming with European partners, and non-lethal bilateral mil[itary]... training and assistance, is the only viable - if very long-term - strategy to induce better Russian behavior and restore Georgian territorial integrity," the cable reads.
"From our vantage point, a burgeoning military supply relationship with Georgia is more of a liability for Georgia than a benefit," Beyrle writes. "It would do nothing to secure a long-term resolution of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, allowing Russia to 'justify' its military buildup in the conflict territories, increasing the insecurities of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian populations already distrustful of Saakashvili, and driving the separatist leaders further into Moscow's arms."
In a cable, dated June 18, 2009, John Tefft, now ambassador to Ukraine and at the time ambassador in Tbilisi, writes that Tbilisi had "extremely limited" defensive goals.
"Current Georgian operational thinking is that if they can defend Tbilisi from occupation for 72 hours, then international pressure will force the advance to pause. To achieve this extremely limited goal, Georgia needs sufficient anti-armor and air defense capability to stall a ground advance, which it currently lacks," the cable reads.
It continues: "The development of this capacity is not solely equipment-based, but it will require the acquisition of new lethal defensive systems. If Georgia does not procure the equipment from the U.S., it will almost surely seek to procure it elsewhere, as it has done in the past."
"U.S. involvement would help ensure the transparency of the procurement process itself, as well as increase our control over the amount, type and location of the equipment," Tefft wrote.
The cable, citing Georgia's written commitment to provide access to EU Monitoring Mission to its military and law enforcement installations, says that Tbilisi "provides far more transparency" in this regard "than virtually any country in the world."
In parallel to providing defensive capacity to Georgia, the ambassador was offering, to pursue public or written commitments from the Georgian authorities on the exclusively defensive nature of the program.
To further back his arguments, Tefft also writes that allowing Russia to dictate pace of U.S. military cooperation with Georgia will be seen as rewarding Russia for "invading and occupying a neighboring country" for which "up to this point, Russia has paid no concrete penalty whatsoever."
He also argued that retreating from military cooperation with Georgia and accepting Russia's objection on the matter would contradict Washington's policy of rejecting the notion of spheres of influence and would also send a negative signal to the U.S. partners in the region.
"Not only will Georgia be disappointed in our diminished support, and hesitant to trust us again, but other partners will draw the same conclusions," Tefft wrote.
"Improvements in relations with Russia, even if bought with compromises on other U.S. interests, will not pay off with any real dividends. Embassy Tbilisi would argue that sacrificing a relationship with a dedicated partner like Georgia is the greater risk, because it will only embolden Russia in the future, both to push for more concessions on our part and to reassert its perceived sphere of influence further," the cable reads.
The ambassador wrote that providing Georgia with enhanced defensive capabilities would "stabilize the situation". It is Russia and "its proxy regimes" - a term usually used by official Tbilisi in reference to de facto authorities in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi - that "have dramatically increased the militarization of Georgia over the past year," the ambassador wrote.
In the same dispatch, the ambassador was rejecting Russia's claims that Georgia was re-arming its forces after the August war, as "false" and gives some estimations on losses of the Georgian army during the war. According to those estimations, Georgia lost 30% of its armored vehicles, 40% of U.S.-produced AR-15 rifles and at least 60% of its air defense capability.
"These have not been replaced," the cable reads and adds that only two deliveries of lethal militay equipment was carried out since the August war - Ejder armored personnel carriers from a Turkish firm, based on a pre-war contract and 16 armored HMMWVs for the Special Forces Brigade under a program, which begun in 2007.
The last time, when the U.S. senior official publicly commented on military cooperation with Georgia was in September, 2010, when Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said Washington had been “careful” in providing military assistance to Georgia. He, however, also said "every sovereign country has the right to provide for its own defense."
In June, 2010 Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, rejected that the U.S. had arms embargo on Georgia. When pressed on the matter and asked why the U.S. had not fulfilled any of Georgia’s request for arms since the August, 2008 war, Gordon responded, that Washington’s focus after the August war was on “reducing tensions” and trying to get Russian to follow its commitments under the ceasefire agreement and to respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We don’t think that arms sales and military equipment is the path to the situation in Georgia that we’re trying to get to,” Gordon said.