U.S., Georgia Intensifying Talks On "Weapons Procurement"
A flurry of high-level military visits between Washington and Tbilisi appears to be setting the stage for wider-scale exports of weaponry from the U.S. to Georgia.
Last week, the highest-ranking officers of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army in Europe both visited Georgia, and earlier this month, Chief of General Staff of Georgian Armed Forces Major General Vakhtang Kapanadze visited Washington, and met with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, as well as top officials from the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and the head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which regulates American arms exports.
During his visit to Tbilisi, General Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army Europe, said that Maj Gen Kapanadze's visit included discussion of "weapons procurement." The statement was reported variously in various media, but U.S. Army Europe confirmed to The Bug Pit that Gen Hodges said:
I am aware of the discussions that happened in Washington DC last week with regards to the weapons procurement. First of all I think it would be inappropriate for me to talk specifics about a meeting that happened at a level way above my head between my Nation's representatives and Georgia.
They couldn't provide any more information, and it's not clear what types of weapons might be procured, and The Bug Pit is hearing varying reports from Washington on whether or not anything substantial has changed in the U.S.'s policy toward arms sales to Georgia.
Of course, all this is happening amid the political turmoil over the firing of Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, a highly trusted partner of the U.S. military. And one of the many intriguing storylines of that saga is that one of Alasania's allies said that he was fired after arranging a deal to buy anti-aircraft systems in France. “Irakli Alasania signed this agreement; now let's see how the government will continue to implement this agreement, because this is the most serious for our country," Zurab Abashidze of the Free Democrats told reporters. That hasn't been corroborated, and who knows what the real story is.
Georgia, for several years, has been trying without luck to get the U.S. to give or sell it lethal "defensive" weaponry, in particular anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems. But with the growing conflict between Russia and the West, the U.S. has stepped up its security assistance to its partners on Russia's borders, with Georgia looking to score a variety of potential benefits from the U.S. including increased military aid, sales of transport helicopters, and official "major non-NATO ally" status. NATO, too, has agreed on an increase in cooperation including setting up a training base in Georgia. So it wouldn't be surprising if the U.S. now decided to loosen its policies on allowing weapons exports to Georgia.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.