Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Russians Claim Georgia Plans to Buy Sophisticated Weapons from the U.S.

by Giorgi Kvelashvili

On November 9, as the Germans were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the unification of their homeland and the Western world was engaged in jubilant festivities with the old and new leaders of Russia to commemorate the end of the Cold War, Moscow’s influential news agency ITAR-TASS broke a truly sensational story. The U.S., according to ITAR-TASS, had offered Georgia arms and munitions worth more than $100 million.

The story was soon picked up by virtually the entire Russian media with various flashy headlines which stated that “according to Russian intelligence, the United States has offered Georgia arms and munitions worth more than $100 million.”

According to ITAR-TASS, “in response to Tbilisi’s request for military aid” “a large set of weapons, military hardware and ammunition” is planned to be delivered to Georgia by Chicago-based Barrington Alliance, Inc., “with the knowledge and approval of the U.S. government” but “not directly by government agencies” themselves, and that an anonymous source from the Russian intelligence service told ITAR-TASS that the above corporation “sent Georgia a proposal on the delivery of air-defense and antitank missile systems as well as machine guns and ammunition,” namely, such sophisticated antiaircraft and antitank systems as Patriot-3, Stinger, Javelin and Hellfire-2.

To make its story more credible, ITAR-TASS claimed that the general staff of the armed forces of the Russian Federation confirmed the information shared by the anonymous source with the news agency. In addition, the chief of Russia’s military intelligence, Aleksandr Shlyakhturov, informed ITAR-TASS that “Georgia continues to receive armaments from NATO countries, Israel and Ukraine”

When reporting the same story on November 9, one of Russia’s most read Internet newspapers Gazeta.ru came up with this catchy headline “The Russian Intelligence Services Accuse the United States of an Attempt to Sell Georgia Weapons Worth $100 Million,” which makes clear the most important issue of Russia’s discontent – America’s close cooperation with a country Moscow wants to isolate.

The Georgian government swiftly responded to the story. Within hours, Georgia’s foreign ministry came out with a commentary neither denying nor confirming the alleged arms deal with the United States. Rather, the department of press and information of the foreign ministry said in its statement that “beside this announcement [alleging Georgia’s rearmament] Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gregory Karasin recently stated that the United States continues to provide weapons to Georgia and this compels us to take appropriate measures.”

In the same statement, Georgia requested from the Russian Federation that the latter “instead of commenting on the relations between other countries, stop increasing its military potential in occupied Georgian territories, respect the principles and norms of international law…and withdraw its troops from Georgian soil.”

Russia has long been trying to prevent the strengthening of Georgia’s military ties with other countries and first and foremost with the United States, and it seems Moscow is deeply concerned that despite its tireless efforts Tbilisi’s cooperation with Washington has not receded. So far, high-ranking American officials have claimed that American military assistance to Georgia has exclusively been in the form of training Georgian troops and helping Tbilisi in strategic planning and logistics.

Nonetheless, Moscow looks alarmed by Washington’s pledge – as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Moscow – that it “will help the Georgian people to feel like they can defend themselves.”

As U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow also affirmed, “America wants to have Georgia as “a strong, independent and sovereign partner that will be able to defend itself.”

Georgians believe that their defeat during Russia’s military aggression in August 2008 was mostly due to their county’s poor antiaircraft and antitank capabilities. Furthermore, many think that had Georgia been better prepared militarily, Russia would not have resorted to war in the first place fearing high costs and mass casualties. Nevertheless, if Georgia indeed plans to buy the above-mentioned sophisticated American systems, they must be viewed as just one way of preventing Russian military aggression in the future.

Without becoming a full member of the Western collective security system with all the political, military and diplomatic assurances it entails, even a well-armed Georgia will hardly be able to prevent war with Russia and secure its sovereignty, territorial integrity and foreign-policy orientation in the long run.

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