Was It Worth While To Replace Defense Minister?
19 July, 2012
Was It Worth While To Replace Defense Minister?

New Minister embarks on a new concept development

In a few days after taking the office, the new Defense Minister Dimitri Shashkin has instantly proposed a whole set of novelties to the armed forces. According to the statement  of the Ministry, it is about to start working on the new concept based on the principle of Three Totals: the first is Total Care for military personnel and their families by the State and provision of various social benefits; the second is

Total Training of troops to enhance readiness for NATO integration; the third is Total Defense that includes extension of reserve forces and enhancement of the country’s defense capacity.

 

Interestingly, the first principle implies no care for veterans and their families. In stark contrast, several days ago the Department of Veterans Affairs was transferred from the Healthcare Ministry to the HQ of Armed Forces. Currently veterans live in dire social conditions and receive marginal State allowance. If the new concept of the Defense Ministry, the final version of which is expected to be publicized in a couple of weeks, is to expand social assistance to cover veterans and their families, this move will surely deserve the highest of appreciation.

Regarding the second principle - Total Training – it has nothing new to show because ISAF program already serves as a ground for systematic special pre-deployment training of Georgian troops before their transfer to the Afghan mission.

Generally, in peace times every country seeks to train its army to the perfection. It could be great if Georgia uses the similar approach. It’s just peculiarity of military threats such as the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, needs to be considered to customize such trainings.

The third principle – Total Defense – is nothing really special. The term first emerged a year ago. Basically, it is about a massive training or re-training of military reserves. Debates on the issue involving political parties are underway for several months already. Some of the oppositioners believe that the Authorities may use a group of reservists for political purposes to win in the approaching parliamentary elections. This logic should not hamper training of reservists because if some people in Governmental circles contrive to use some units in order to achieve their party objectives, it won’t be a good enough reason to dissolve the entire army, would it? Those commanders who force their subordinates to fulfill unconstitutional orders, should stand accountable to the criminal court.

In addition to the new concept, the new Defense Minister also proposed a new slogan for the Georgia Army. It translates as “We will not abandon a single man in times of either war or peace”. This slogan generated tragic parallels with the August 2008 war in the minds of certain people, when many killed Georgian soldiers were lying in the fields abandoned. It was only one or two weeks later that their corpses were collected at last, exclusively thanks to the Georgian Church and particularly, His Holiness and Beatitude Ilea II. The new slogan is indeed acceptable and even necessary but it’s an empty phrase, unless realized in real life.

Now a couple of words about staff changes. Shashkin’s only deputy, whose adequacy is not questioned, is Davit Nardaia who has worked at the Defense Ministry, dealing with international affairs for ten years by now and is a real professional. The same hardly applies to other deputies of the minister, especially the first deputy minister Akaki Seperteladze, taken along by Shashkin from the Ministry of Education and Science. It means that Shashkin trusts him and always takes him around. However, it is hard to say whether the Georgian Defense will gain anything from it. Another deputy Defense Minister Data Akhalaia is a brother of ex Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia and naturally, will continue the rigid policy that his sibling has been practicing in the last three year in the Defense Ministry and armed forces. As for Shashkin himself, his appointment as the Defense Minister took a considerable part of the public by surprise and even proved unacceptable for them. For the opponents, his stands far off the defense domain, a complete amateur.

Yet, the post of the Georgian Defense Minister is a political one and the Minister is not supposed to be a military person. So, it is not appropriate to demand the skills of tank driving or precision shooting from Shashkin. On the other hand, his CV contains an interesting entry in the section of work experience. It reads that in 1996 he served as a lieutenant of national armed forces of Georgia at the Akhaltsikhe military base. If Shashkin means by this CV that he served in the Akhaltsikhe infantry brigade then he should be called the most experienced in military service among all his predecessors (Bezhuashvili, Baramidze, Okruashvili, Kezerashvili, Sikharulidze, Akhalaia). However, there is a room for doubts. Maybe the new Defense Minister Dimitri Shashkin meant something else when he wrote that entry about his Akhaltsikhe military service. Actually, he may have been enlisted there in an ordinary month-long military practice designed for students of the Military Department of State University, after which he had been awarded a lieutenant’s title. If that’s true, such practice doesn’t amount to work experience. If we happen to be mistaken and the new Defense Minister did really serve in 1996 at the Akhaltsikhe brigade as a lieutenant, then we would be delighted to admit our error.

P.S. We cannot pass by one important question. Was it worth while to replace the Defense Minister when the Georgian Government has been eyeing the forthcoming Russian Military Drills Kavkaz 2012 with extreme apprehension?

In just one or two months before the August 2008 war, three brigade leadership, military intelligence and other high ranking military officers of Georgian army had been replaced. It would be impossible for any newly appointed brigade commander to thoroughly familiarize himself with the freshly delivered unit and lead it successfully. At the time, these changes took its toll on the manageability of Georgian military units under the war conditions.

If today the Authorities do not rule out that large-scale Russian military command drills Kavkaz 2012 may grow into a renewed Russian military aggression against Georgia, then why has the Defense Ministry has shuffled all Ministry staff?

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