|President with new and ex-Defense Ministers.|
Experts say Georgia made a step forward towards the NATO standards, as President Saakashvili nominated on February 13 civilian for the Defense Minister’s post. Western-educated Gela Bezhuashvili, who previously served as Deputy Defense Minister, will face a huge task of reformation of mostly soviet-style armed forces.
“A civilian as Defense Minister corresponds to the NATO standards. Integration into NATO is our foreign policy priority,” Mikheil Saakashvili said at a news briefing on February 13, while presenting the new Defense Minister.
He also said that former Minister Davit Tevzadze, who led the Defense Ministry since 1999, would become Georgian Ambassador to NATO. “This is an important post for Georgia – the country which aspires NATO accession,” the President added.
Appointment of a civilian as a Defense Minister is one of those recommendations, which should approach Georgia to the NATO standards.
Davit Tevzadze told the defense and security parliamentary committee on February 16, that his main aim as Georgia’s envoy to the NATO would be to promote Georgia as NATO aspirant country.
He said that Georgia should draft Individual Partnership Program by March and present it at the NATO Istanbul summit in June. Davit Tevzadze said that Georgia has sent proposals to NATO regarding the Individual Partnership Program twice.
“But we did not include structural reforms of the Defense Ministry in these proposals,” Davit Tevzadze said at the hearing of the parliamentary committee.
“Working over the Individual Partnership Program, which will be acceptable for NATO, will be priority for us. We hope to send the proposal once again in March. And in June at the Istanbul NATO summit we intend to raise Georgia’s intentions to become NATO aspirant country,” Davit Tevzadze said.
The NATO’s recommendations focus mainly on reduction of number of the armed forces, as well as number of officers. The alliance also recommends to reform entire security system, including Security and Interior Ministries and appointment of civilian as a defense minister. Only the latter is fulfilled so far by the Georgian authorities.
However, as military experts say, only staff changes are not enough for the reforms in the defense system, which suffers with permanent funding blow.
“Appointment of a civilian as a Defense Minister is an important step to push reforms forward, however the [Defense] Ministry lacks environment for his [civilian minister’s] normal activity. The Defense Ministry has become a Soviet-type, corrupted department,” former acting commander of the land forces Nika Janjgava told Civil Georgia. He quitted the army in 2002, as he says because of corruption and “intolerable conditions” in the army.
The parliamentary committee for defense and security has already launched to probe the cases of alleged corruptions in the Defense Ministry, mainly related to the misuse of foreign aid and grants, which are actually one of the main sources of Georgian army’s income.
The committee summoned Davit Tevzadze, former Defense Minister on February 11, who admitted that particular violations really took place in the Ministry, however refrained from naming the officials accountable for these violations. Mikheil Saakashvili said on February 13 that if he had any evidence against Tevzadze, he would not have nominated him as an Ambassador.
Military experts say that due to the lack of funding reduction of the armed forces would be inevitable. Actually, the Defense Ministry fails from year to year drafting conscripts. For example, late last year the Brigade 25 of the Georgian Defense Ministry, which is deployed in Batumi, Autonomous Republic of Adjara, refused to receive the conscripts because of lack of uniforms and equipment for the servicemen.
Georgia has already reduced compulsory military service from 24 months to 18 months. However, experts say that the term should be further reduced together with the number of personal in the armed forces.
“Georgia has no potential enemies. We should have small but effective army,” expert Koba Liklikadze said.
“I support both reduction of the personnel, and compulsory military service to one year. Number of generals is to be reduced as well. Georgia has 18 generals today, while two are quite enough for Georgia,” former military commander Nika Janjgava told Civil Georgia.
The NATO has also recommends reducing number of troops in accordance with the country’s financial capabilities. Western experts also suggest cutting number of officers, which currently consist 20% of personal in the army.
Military experts say that four battalions of the Georgian armed forces, which underwent the U.S.-funded Georgia Train-and-Equip Program (GTEP), are the only units in the Georgian armed forces, which correspond to the western standards to a certain extant.
Some 2000 GTEP-trained soldiers are contracted for three-and-a-half years and receive highest salaries in the Georgian army. The Georgian side undertook to pay wages of the trained militaries. Currently salaries for these officers and soldiers vary between 400-800 Georgian Lari per-month (approximately USD 180-360), depending on a rank.
However, main part of the Georgian armed forces suffers with poor funding. The most of the officers receive some 80 Lari (USD 38) per month.
“We have two types of army: one receives 400 Lari, another – 80 Lari. I am not against receiving high salaries by GTEP soldiers, but they [authorities] should increase our salaries as well, or at least they [authorities] should tell us that they don’t need us any more and we’ll quit,” Colonel of the Georgian armed forces, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Civil Georgia.
Experts say that differentiation in the armed forces poses a threat to stability in the army.
“Such a difference in the army is acceptable for couple of years; however it should not last too long. Otherwise, the problem of differentiation will lead to mutiny. Georgia has experienced such events for several time already and this danger still exists,” military expert Koba Liklikadze told Civil Georgia.
Lasha Beridze, who is commander of the Telavi 111th Battalion, which underwent GTEP training, says that the authorities should take a quick decision over what kind of army the country needs.
“If a military is not professional, dismiss him and do not pay even 80 Lari. At the same time, if a military is professional, the state should pay appropriate salary. Although I have a normal salary, still I feel awkward. When I had 80-Lari salary I was ashamed of my wage. But I am ashamed anyway because many friends of mine receive just 80 Lari,” Lasha Beridze told Civil Georgia.
President Saakashvili vowed that his government would largely focus on armed forces. “We should have the army, where the service would be a privilege for each Georgian,” he said after being inaugurated as the President in January.
“Georgia’s each citizen should undergo at least one week long military training. I will submit to the Parliament draft law, which would prevent appointment of those officials on the high position whose, sons have not undergone military service. Now our army is the army of soldiers from the impoverished families,” Saakashvili told reporters.