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Military Power and The Factor of NATO in The Russian-Georgian Relations

The armed forces of our overseas neighbor, the Russian Federation, which attempts at strengthening its military power through an extensive and serious reorganization, might pose a problem for the NATO and US in the immediate future. Having lost its position as a global power, it is clear that Russia now desires to endure at least as a significant regional power. Though disarrayed, its army still possesses the second biggest inventory of nuclear weaponry and this greatly contributes to Putin’s design of once again becoming a powerful actor. Still, Putin is aware of the fact that a state, which lacks an arrayed conventional power, is burdened with many disadvantages. For that reason, he seems to set his mind to spend the Russian financial resources on the armament and the modernization of the army. It is also clear that Putin, who has been currently giving a hard time to the ex-Soviet satellites by playing the oil card, will want to seize the opportunities to suppress those ex-Soviet states, as the Soviet Russia previously did, as soon as the armed forces are reorganized. As one may say, such opportunities are abounding in its surroundings. Particularly the Caucasus, which Russia has deeply involved in through history and hence will never want to give up on, is one of the foremost flammable spots in the region. Alongside all this, the Chechnya question, the dispute with Georgia over Ossetia and finally the confrontation on Abkhazia -with Georgia again- which sometimes gets rough, oblige Russia to overhaul its armed forces.

Putin’s arrangements for the reorganization of the armed forces accelerated in 2003. The total number of soldiers was reduced, while in direct proportion to that, the efforts for the transition to a professional army gained speed. Following the progress on these matters, the moves towards armament and an enhanced light army with high mobility came. In this context, in last January it was agreed to systematize the equipping of the Russian army via GPV-2015 program. In the previous five-year plan which was prepared in a similar manner to the GPV-2015, the focus rested on the research and development programs. However, in this, State Weapons Program, as some would say so, the focus lays on the acquisition of new and upgraded equipment. The most crucial instrument in modernizing the Russian army is, no doubt, the petro-dollars. It has been argued that when Putin explicitly uttered that a great proportion of these dollars would be increasingly allocated to the needs of the army, he, in fact, had in mind to deploy this potential power against Ukraine and Georgia, which Russia resented greatly because of the worsening of the relations.

As a matter of fact, the reading of the defense budget of the Russian Federation would point to arrangements in parallel to this plan. The federal defense budget which was approximately 15.8 billion $ in 2004, has been increased to 20 billion $ in 2005, and 24.5 billion $ in 2006. 8.5 billion $ from the 2006 budget is allocated to the weapon purchasing. Nevertheless, ,it is equally significant that the great proportion of the federal budget will be spent –alongside the attempts at modernizing the armed forces- on the continuation of deterrent nuclear power of the Russian Federation. At this point, what is aimed at by the new “Armament Program” is a “modern and compact” nuclear power, which allows Russia in a pre-emptive nuclear attack to retaliate in the capacity to cause irreparable damage to the enemy. However, the strategic weapon inventory, for being old and unwieldy, causes hardship in the transfer of nuclear bombs. Apparently wanting to improve its weakness in strategic bombers Russia, through innovation programs, has focused on modernizing some of the bombers, which are among its most strategic weapons. On the other hand, particularly within the transfer of nuclear program it seems that Russia will also focus more intensely on the development of ballistic missiles in parallel with other small -and recently nuclear- powers such as Pakistan, North Korea, China and Iran as well as on their further use in dispatching nuclear bombs. This could be explained by the fact that because Russia has a very important technological accumulation particularly in terms of missile technologies, it would prefer to develop new, cheaper and more efficient ballistic missile systems in a shorter period of time rather than producing new, more expensive plane technologies. Within the framework of GPV-2015, the Russian Air Force that possesses strategic bombers of TU-160, TU-95MS and TU-22M3 dwells much on the modernization of conventional weapons and more particularly on the dispatch of cruise missiles as important conventional weapons, while seeking to incorporate them to its nuclear deterrence power as an indispensable component. In the enhancement of the conventional air force with the purpose of purging terrorists from the region, responding immediately to any asymmetric threat, and safeguarding the energy routes, the modernization of SU-27 and MIG-31’s bears much more importance than the purchase of new planes. Nevertheless, in order not to fall behind the world’s fourth- (F-16, F/A-18, MIG-29 and SU-27) and fifth-generation (F-22 and F-35) plane development program and to support the development program of its own, Russia earmarks some part of its budget to the purchase of SU-34 war planes, which are the innovated versions of SU-27s and also continues to work especially on the fifth-generation T-50 planes with double-engine and 30-35 tones of take-off gravity, which are products of a more advanced technology than the previously planned but unproduced models of SU-37 and S-47 Berkut. However, despite all, it is understood that Russia, in its nuclear deterrence doctrine, will concentrate on the ballistic missiles of types Topol-M (SS-27) that can be fired from either stable or mobile launchers and Bulava (SS-N-30) that are aimed for the use of naval forces. In essence, it is thought that Putin, who threatened the world last year by manufacturing multiple-warhead Topol missiles, will now focus on ballistic missiles in his defense doctrine.

Despite the successful steps taken on their reorganization and equipment, the Land Forces too however has reduced to a secondary importance together with the Air and Naval Forces when compared to the nuclear strategic powers. In addition to the T-90s, which are the main battle tanks of the land army, BMP-3M armored personnel carriers and 300 mm BM 9A52 multiple rocket system, certain studies to develop a new Black Eagle type tank, which is the innovated version of T-80 tanks, and a new armored personnel carrier, BTR-90, are carried out. Within the context of these studies to render the army more mobile and powerful, the purchase of 31 new T-90 tanks, 125 BTR-80 armored personnel carriers and 3700 automobiles lies in the purchase plan of 2006.

Neglected for a long time and remembered only after various accidents, Russian Naval Forces also seem to benefit from the armament program of Putin to an extent. According to that, the construction of 3 new Borey class and 2 modernized Akula class nuclear ballistic missile submarines is foreseen. By this way, in 2012, Russian Naval Forces will reach to the capacity of 16 nuclear submarines all capable of launching missiles. Beside this submarine capacity, Admiral Gorshkov cruiser, which has recently been ordered by the Naval Forces, 5 new frigates -mentioned also as project-22350- with gas and diesel turbines and finally 20 corvettes under the scope of project-20380 will further strengthen the fleet.

Two countries to be negatively affected by the above-mentioned improvements in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are, no doubt, Ukraine and Georgia. At this point, it is inevitable for these countries to seek new ways and venture new approaches.

Given the small size of its army -when compared to Ukraine’s relatively more powerful forces, its unstable geography and the persisting Russian pressure in the region, it is only natural to expect that Georgia will eventually approach the US, which is at the moment struggling to be effective in the Black Sea and Caucasus, and the US-controlled NATO. It might even one day become an ally of the US. Besides, the geographical position of Georgia as a crucial bridge between Turkey and the Turkic World confers an extremely strategic status upon Turkey. The existence of a powerful Georgian army in close relationship with Turkey greatly concerns us in terms of our interests in the region. As an example of the pursuit of a wise policy within this context, our Armed Forces, alongside the US army, have assisted the training of the Georgian Armed Forces, which nowadays consists of 4 brigades and this fact illustrates, at least militarily, the importance that we have given to the potential developments in the region. Consisting of approximately 20,000 soldiers, the Armed Forces of Georgia have now reached the NATO standards with its Special Forces Brigade trained by Turkey and additional T-72 and T-55 tanks, some of which were acquired from the Czech Republic. However, 5 Su-25 close-support /ground attack aircraft, about 20 UH-1 transport helicopters, 3 Mi-24 assault/attack helicopters and 11 fairly old assault boats at hand are insufficient in comparison to the capacity of the Russian army. However, the American U-2 reconnaissance aircrafts in the region are believed to fly with reconnaissance purposes over Caucasus and a much broader area including Abkhazia and Ossetia and to follow the Russian forces deployed there. This illustrates the importance given by the US to the balance of power in this sensitive region and the possibility that the US might support Georgia at the time of crisis.

In the light of all these developments, especially the facts that the US has gained a very loyal ally in the Black Sea with Georgia and the NATO-Georgia relationship has been enhanced seriously troubles Russia. In this respect, with the concern not to neglect Georgia completely, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, agreed with the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, to meet in St. Petersburg on June 13, 2006. In this meeting especially the issues of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are expected to be discussed. According to Saakashvili’s recent statements, the foreign ministers of Georgia and Russia have been engaged in a constructive dialogue and hence further constructive steps to eliminate the setbacks within the regional harmony are expected to be taken in the meeting with Putin. Furthermore, according to Saakashvili’s statement made at the National Security Council of Georgia, despite the accumulation of serious problems in Georgia-Russia relations, the government of Georgia -under the condition that the territorial integrity of Georgia remains intact- is ready for a very close and tight interaction with Russia, the peaceful resolution of disagreements and the elimination of artificial impediments.

Under the light of all these considerations, it is possible to understand the desire and rationale of Georgia to become a member of the NATO. The government of Georgia has enforced a Membership Action Plan within this context. Furthermore, it expects to be invited to the NATO in the summit in 2008. It bares much significance for Georgia to frequently emphasize the question of joining the NATO both as a domestic and foreign policy tool. The fact that 75 percent of the Georgians is in favor of the membership is a clear indication of the American influence on this country. However, it seems like Georgia would encounter some difficulties on the way to the membership. Because of the existence of some problematic issues incompatible with the NATO principles and the unsolved problems, which have been in fact deeply frozen instead, granting a membership warranty to this country is extremely hard. At this point it can be said that the approaching Saakashvili – Putin appointment aims at solving these problems and take one more step forward in the question of joining the NATO. However, it is quite possible that Putin, who seeks support in his efforts of acquiring political influence in his neighborhood by reinforcing the Russian army, desires to prolong these deeply frozen problems of Georgia with the purpose of preventing Saakashvili from taking another step forward in joining the NATO. It is also particularly significant that the Abkhazia problem is much more serious than Ossetia, for recently it has forced Russia to utter words such as ‘using force.’ At this point it appears crucial to mention that Russia still has a troop of 2000 soldiers in Abkhazia in compliance with the CIS treaty. Furthermore, Georgia, which signed an agreement with Russia in last March reinforcing the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the Georgian territory, deals with some other regional issues as well, to which Russia is related. Among those, there come in the first place that the North Caucasian issues concerning Russia also concerns Georgia and that the trans-border movements of both foreign and domestic forces, terrorist activities and organized crime greatly trouble the Georgian government. While tackling these problems, Georgia feels the necessity of having a strong army and puts its armed forces into a serious transformation. Reinvigorating the army and keeping up with the NATO criteria in terms of the army training seem especially important while dealing with these mostly Russia-related problems. In this aspect, one may also suggest that in the formation of Georgia’s more professional army of today- when compared to its scattered and chaotic armed forces of the past- the overseas experience has a prominent role.

It is equally significant that Georgia has sent forces to various conflict regions over the world to support the US or NATO, similar to what Turkey did in the past by sending its troops to Korea to be able to be a NATO member. Therefore, it can easily be argued that still having 850 soldiers in Iraq, 150 in Kosovo among the Turkish troops there and 50 under the ISAF commandership of Afghanistan Georgia aims at taking shelter under the protection of NATO and benefiting from this, despite its small army and flammable environment. It is clear that Georgia is seriously irritated by the Russian threat. On this account, it has recently claimed that it planted S-300 ballistic missiles to Russia’s closed military exponent of Guduata in Abkhazia. Georgia thus expects to overcome its disadvantage of not being able to improve its army because of its financial shortcomings, by keeping close military contact with Turkey and the US. It under all circumstances aims at joining the NATO which is seen by the Georgian authorities as the best way to confine Russia’s activities in the region. Georgia is aware of the US’s close and strategic interest in the region and of its position as an important chess piece in the power struggle between the US and Russia. Yet it has a tendency to use this as leverage against the neighboring countries. Besides, it is observed that Georgia sometimes overemphasizes this point in its relations with Turkey.

It should not be forgotten that the possibility of Georgia’s isolation in the hands of Russians -like an island in the region- still persists. The geographical distance from its potential ally, the US, makes Georgia dependent on Turkey in reaching out the rest of the world.


Aurhor: Ali KULEBI


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