New Chance for Georgian Army
11 October, 2012
New Chance for Georgian Army

Compared to other state institutions, defense sphere suffered most during the rule of previous Government because the Nationals had been incessantly experimenting with Defense Ministry and armed forces. First they did a bad move in 2004 by firing thousands of officers, many professionals among them, from the Georgian army.

Nearly 2-year - long term of ministerf Irakli Okruashvili is now remembered for its inflated military budget, beaten and harassed soldiers and an empty promise to take Tskhinvali in the New Year’s

Eve. Most of the public identifies the name of Kezerashvili with the shameful war lost in one and a half days and with rampant corruption.

Sikharulidze was a post-war Defense Minister for one year only. Saakashvili chose him to show the west that he diminished his military rhetoric and that the former Georgian ambassador to America would not announce Tskhinvali and Sokhumi takeover in the New Year’s Eve just like Okruashvili did.

The Mukhrovani events, when tank troopers enraged with the loss of comrades in the battle for Tskhinvali, attempted to vent out their discontent, were aptly used by Saakashvili as an excuse and officially handed the defense sphere to Akhalaia. Basically, Akhalaia got the carte blanche to do anything in the army, to use same horrendous methods that he was so fond of when “working over” the prisoners. He was the most long-standing minister of Nationals who for almost three consecutive years (August, 2009 – June, 2012) was diligently “purifying” Defense Ministry and armed forces of disconcerted servicemen, as well as those professionals who assumably would not fulfill illegal orders, e.g. on forceful dispelling of a rally.

The government of Nationals has not entirely gone away and is still capable of a poisonous bite especially when Mikheil Saakashvili remains the President of the country. Hasty transfer of the state special communications and information agency from MIA to the special service of state security indicates that Nationals would like to continue listening to phone conversions of the Government members and control their electronic information.

The coalition led by Bidzina Ivanishvili who won the 1 October parliamentary elections, on 8 October presented a new Cabinet of Ministers where the post of the Defense chief will go to Irakli Alasania. I have been observing the career of this young politician for a long time, starting from the last days of the Apkhazeti war when he was one of the first to receive special training in the United States. However, Irakli Alasania did a much more important thing 10 years later when the problem with Pankisi gorge could have grown into an anti-terror operation organized by Russia. At that time, a large armed group headed by Ruslan Gelayev was staying in Pankisi gorge and Russian intelligence knew about it, probably even thanks to Georgian private TV company Rustavi 2 whose correspondents were almost shouting in the cameras and describing the route of Gelayev’s movement on the map. Bombardments by Russian aviation followed immediately.

Let us not forget that exactly in that very period (November 2001), the United States launched revengeful international counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, 11 thousand kilometers away from the North America , to wipe out Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.

What do you think Russia would do about Pankisi gorge located just 60km away from its borders when America sent its troops to the other continent? Kremlin resorted to the same argument used by America: if America has the right to do it, Russia can do it too.

I wanted to bring this up for the reader to size up the threats faced by Georgia at the time. I met Irakli Alasania, Deputy Minister of Security, who had been guiding emergency operations to avert Russian military aggression. Alasania acted aptly, formulating the action plan to curb on Russian threats. Fortunately, the plan was implemented successfully under his guidance. We managed to have the Ruslan Gilayev’s squad leave Georgia without a problem. This special operation led by Irakli Alasania is worth of special noting  in relation to the incident that occurred a month ago in Lapankuri. If ten years ago Irakli Alasania and his team managed to find a common language with the heavily armed thousand-men unit of Gilayev, why were special task force of Nationals unable to deal with twenty men similarly, especially when there were Georgian citizens among them too? I recalled this episode to emphasize that Irakli Alasania – as the former member of the Special Forces, former head of special services and former diplomat - has the right experience to command the Ministry of Defense.

In addition to the needed upgrade of the personnel of Defense Ministry as well as of HQ and entire armed forces, Alasania must restore civil control over the armed forces without which it is inconceivable to join NATO. Nationals did everything to block Defense Ministry and Georgian army from the public and mass media, the fact that should not ever happen in a country with Euroatlantic aspirations. If the new parliament approves the candidacy of Irakli Alasania for the position of Defense Minister and President Saakashvili does not confront this decision of the parliamentary majority,  Alasania would get the best chance to restore the human face of the main military organization of Georgia.

It is remarkable that Bidzina Ivanishvili proposed Irakli Sesiashvili for the position of the chair of Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee. Irakli Sesiashvili has a solid experience in the protection of military rights. As the first military ombudsman in the past, he even confronted Bacho Akhalaia in his courageous efforts to protect the rights of abused soldiers.

Irakli Alasania as possible Defense Minister and Irakli Sesiashvili as possible Chair of the Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee may become the best duo – as representatives of executive and legislative branches of power respectively – which will strengthen Georgian army in synergy with each other and protect constitutional rights of every military and civil servant.

Former Defense Minister Irakli Sesiashvili should categorically separate functions of Defense Ministry and united HQ as stipulated by law which actually was permanently violated by defense ministers of Nationals.

United HQ too needs new blood. For one thing, it is headed not by united HQ Commander but his first deputy – new  brigade General Gigi Kalandadze. This is the very Kalandadze who commanded the fourth infantry brigade in the August war. In that war, the brigade suffered most severe live losses compared to other units of the Georgian army that were engaged in the operations. On top of it, the brigade lost all the tanks, entire artillery, infantry and military vehicles. For all these losses, major Kalandadze came away as Brigade General and 4 years later - united HQ deputy commander. United HQ is going to have the name reverted to general HQ. The new HQ commander is likely to be brigade General Vakhtang Kapanadze. He once already headed HQ from 2004 till August 2005 but had to leave the post following the fallout with Defense Minister Okruashvili. Brigade General Kapanadze is a veteran of Apkhazeti war, a seasoned serviceman who received high military education in the United States and who is a Member of Georgian Engineering Academy and a Member of the sub-committee of the Academy of Sciences.

There are all pre-conditions for fruitful cooperation of Irakli Alasania, Vakhtang Kapanadze and Irakli Sesiashvili. Yet, the nearest future will tell us all about it.

P.S. A few hours after this article was written, President Saakashvili appointed Giga Kalandadze a united HQ Commander.

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