Georgian Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, said that de facto arms embargo, when Georgia’s western partners were reluctant of selling defensive weapons to Tbilisi after the August, 2008 war with Russia, is now already over.
Praising “substantial package” that NATO has offered to Georgia at the summit in Wales last week, Alasania said that, among other issues, it also gives Georgia possibility to procure air defense and anti-tank systems, but it would require, he said, more defense funding.
“In order for the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces perform their duties properly, they need defensive weapons,” Alasania said in an interview with Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 TV’s political talk show on September 9.
“We can say that this issue was stuck since 2008, it was not openly an embargo, but everyone was refraining from handing over or selling defensive arms to Georgia – now this issue has been put to an end in a positive sense. It is directly written in the Georgia-NATO package that NATO-member states should give Georgia possibility to procure defensive weapons and it specifies – air defense, anti-tank capabilities, which Georgia needs to defend itself from possible aggression,” the Defense Minister said.
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“I said it when the U.S. Defense Secretary [Chuck Hagel] visited Georgia and I want to stress it again that this new stage of cooperation is not directed against anyone. We are only talking about self-defense capabilities, which Georgia needs in order to have our airspace shielded and in order for our armed forces to be capable to confront adversary adequately,” he said.
“These capabilities will become available for Georgia stage-by-stage,” Alasania added.
But he stressed that in order it to happen Georgia should invest more in defense budget.
“Others will not create army for you. Other countries and NATO can give us instruments for that. So it is important to realize that it is mainly up to us to take steps for increasing our defense capabilities – we have all the instruments available for that,” the Defense Minister said.
During a hearing in parliament in July, Alasania told lawmakers that the Defense Ministry would seek 11% increase in its budget next year.
GEL 660 million is allocated to the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in 2014; the same amount of funding was allocated in 2013.
Alasania also said that Georgia current policy towards Russia “not to give Moscow any pretext for dragging us into any kind of escalation” is “pragmatic”, which is also welcomed by Tbilisi’s western partners.
“Our policy is to develop our defense, to go irreversibly towards NATO and the EU and at the same time to try not to let Russia drag us into escalation. It does not depend only on us, so we should be ready for everything. Our government will not let it happen to meet potential aggression in a way like we did in 2008. So our efforts are directed towards having all the necessary defensive capabilities so that in the event of escalation the Georgian soldiers can defend the territory and the society,” Alasania said.