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Another weapons scandal erupts in Tbilisi. What next?2009-03-05 20:47
Weapons scandals are rocking Georgia. Firstly, the President of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, has accused Tbilisi of actively arming. And literally the following day, a former close ally of Saakashvili and now leader of the opposition party "Movement for a Just Georgia", Zurab Nogaideli, accused the president of appropriating funds belonging to the defence ministry.
Weapons scandals are following one after another. One connected with arms supplies by Ukraine to Georgia has not even had time to subside when another one erupted. On 3rd March, the South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity remarked in an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta that Georgia was actively restoring its military potential following its August fiasco, and that in particular military supplies from Israel have resumed.
Neither Tbilisi nor Moscow has yet responded to this statement. Literally on the eve of the war on 5th August last year, as lenta.ru reported, Israel's Foreign Ministry, acting on an official request from Russia, decided to restrict its exports of military goods to Georgia. And on 21st January this year, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev issued the decree "On measures to prohibit the supplies of military and dual-purpose goods to Georgia". As Russian analysts believe, this decree was meant primarily as a warning to Eastern and Central European countries, as well as Ukraine. Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Centre for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, expressed this opinion to RIA Novosti. So Kokoity's statement could have provoked a showdown on the international stage.
But it will seemingly not have the resonance it deserves. Because literally the next day, another scandal broke out in Tbilisi which completely overshadowed the comment by Tskhinvali's leader. As the Georgian media are reporting, Zurab Nogaideli declared that "2 billion and several hundred million dollars which had been set aside for purchasing arms were actually appropriated by Saakashvili and his entourage". The leader of the "Movement for a Just Georgia" admitted that he previously considered such suspicions unfounded. However, last August opened his eyes to many things. He equated these actions by Saakashvili with treachery against his homeland, because when weapons were needed, "it turned out that either there weren't any or they were worthless".
As The New York Times wrote at the end of 2008 with reference to a Pentagon report, American military specialists who were working in Tbilisi in October-November 2008 reported that they were concerned by the low combat readiness of the Georgian army. They emphasized that even after the large-scale investment made by Saakashvili in defence, and the more than ten years of work by American instructors, Georgia's army remained inexperienced and unprepared.
This year, Georgia's former defence minister, Georgi Karkarashvili, made similar accusations against the authorities in the Georgian newspaper Kviris palitra (Palette of the Week). Essentially everything to do with the defence sector in Georgia is a shady affair. After the Rose Revolution, the country rapidly increased its military budget. Even the BBC, which is highly unsympathetic towards the Kremlin, reported: "Georgia is the country with the fastest growing military expenditure in the world". It was not made possible to verify where the money was going. The pro-presidential parliamentary majority decided that the articles constituting the military budget should remain closed.
Your GeorgiaTimes correspondent asked the Georgian military expert Gia Melitauri to comment on how well-founded the allegations made by Kokoity and Nogaideli against Saakashvili actually are.