Pentagon Looking to Georgia to Help Arm Syrian Rebels
The United States negotiated with Georgia to buy weapons for Syrian rebel militias. While both the Pentagon and the Georgian government confirmed the deal, the Georgian government said it was still waiting for formal confirmation on where the weapons would end up before any deal was completed.
That's according to a new investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The OCCRP identified a network of arms suppliers around the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who have sold weapons to the US as part of a Pentagon program to arm Syrian rebels.
Under the Pentagon program an American contracter, Alliant Techsystems Operations arranged a contract for $1,855,251 between the US and Georgia. Documents to that effect were published on the Pentagon's website. Those documents originally identified "Syria and Iraq" as the destination of the weapons. But after OCCRP inquired about the program, portions of the document were redacted to eliminate the references to Syria and Iraq, said Dave Bloss, the Caucasus editor at OCCRP, in an interview with Georgian television station Rustavi 2.
Georgia's Ministry of Defense responded to OCCRP's queries by saying the deal was not yet complete: "Georgia’s Ministry of Defense said that an export deal was under negotiation but it had not yet received an end-user certificate from the Pentagon and no contract had been signed," OCCRP reported.
The end-user certificate, as the name suggests, specifies where the weapons are going to end up. One of OCCRP's major findings was that in some cases the Pentagon concealed the final end-user of the weapons, in contravention of international arms sales norms.
Why was Georgia particularly concerned about this? Russian newspaper Kommersant, following up on the original Rustavi 2 report, said that it was out of concern for Georgia's relations with Turkey. A major point of tension between Turkey and the US over Syria has been the question of anti-Assad Kurdish militias; the US supports them but Turkey fears that arms supplied to Syrian Kurds will eventually find their way into the hands of Kurdish fighters in Turkey.
"Of course, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would be beside himself with rage if he found out that Georgia, even indirectly, had supplied weapons to Kurds," said Iosif Tsintsadze, a former rector of the Tbilisi Diplomatic Academy, in an interview with Kommersant.