President Saakashvili praised new Defense Minister Dimitri Shashkin as “one of the best patriots”, “generator of ideas” and “experienced” manager, who would bring in new ideas for reforms in the defense sector.
Saakashvili made the televised remarks while presenting Shashkin, who replaced Bacho Akhalaia, to MoD’s top brass after the Parliament confirmed reshuffled cabinet on July 4.
“He [Shashkin] has carried out very important and positive reforms and changes wherever he served,” Saakashvili said.
Shashkin is relatively newcomer to Saakashvili’s administration than President’s other close allies. He first joined the government in early 2009 when he became the minister in charge of penitentiary system. Apart of his ministerial portfolio Shashkin, who before joining the government headed International Republican Institute’s Tbilisi office, was also tasked by President Saakashvili to coordinate “new wave of democratization”. In December, 2009 Shashkin was appointed as Education Minister. In 2010 President Saakashvili praised Shashkin as “an important statesman”, who can climb high up career ladder, even hinting at presidency.
On July 4 Saakashvili also pointed out at Shashkin’s experience of working as head of Tbilisi’s office of the U.S. International Republican Institute before joining the government in early 2009 and in this context mentioned close defense cooperation between the U.S. and Georgia.
Saakashvili said that the U.S. was planning to launch “important, historic” new defense assistance program for Georgia, which, he said, would have “decisive importance” for the country.
He was referring to the U.S. decision to help Georgia develop its air surveillance and air defense and coastal surveillance capabilities, as well as defensive combat engineer capabilities, training of its non-commissioned officers and to upgrade Georgia’s utility helicopter fleet.
“Defense is the most delicate and the most importance sphere in Georgia. The Georgian armed forces have the highest reputation among the state institutions,” Saakashvili said.
“I think that Dima [Shashkin] will have very interesting ideas in respect of reforms. He is a really generator of ideas,” Saakashvili said, adding that “it’s very easy to work with him, because he is very open.”
“We need thinkers here and not simply executors of orders; we need people who can boldly criticize and boldly speak out when needed,” Saakashvili said.
Speaking about Shashkin’s predecessor, Bach Akhalaia, who now became new Interior Minister, Saakashvili said that Akhalaia managed “to clean” the armed forces from elements similar to those who were behind “failed coup attempt in 2009” – a reference to a mutiny in Mukhrovani-based tank battalion.
He said that one of the positive things that happened during Bacho Akhalaia’s tenure as Defense Minister was “to fully clean” the army from “hesitant elements with old-style of mindset, who were ready to ally themselves with the enemy.”
“The armed forces are today fully clean in this regard and it happened without any major incidents, turmoil and noise,” Saakashvili added.
In his remarks Saakashvili also said that Georgia should maintain conscription system in parallel to contract-based, professional army.
“It is inadmissible to abolish conscription in a country like Georgia; this is a foolish idea,” Saakashvili said.
Reserve system is “source of our pride”, he said, adding that “every person” in Georgia should be capable to protect their villages, towns and neighborhoods.
He also said that much had been done in the armed force in recent years and not everything had been publicized. He said that he had learnt a lesson that showing off military drills on TV did not at all mean that “we are in a good shape”.
“Deeds are always better done when they are done quietly,” Saakashvili said.