Georgia’s Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili visited Russia on March 30-31. This was his first visit to Moscow in the rank of defense minister. Both Russian political beau monde and the Georgian politicians know very little about him so far. Formally, Bezhuashvili is not a novice in the Georgian Defense Ministry. In 1998 – February 2003 he had been deputy defense minister of Georgia. After that, Bezhuashvili was sent to study at Harvard, but was recalled in December 2003 in connection to appointing him as defense minister.
Describing Bezhuashvili, Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili noted earlier: “I have full trust in Mr. Bezhuashvili, consider him a qualified specialist in military sphere and a manager.” Impartially, Bezhuashvili could be called a “military specialist” at a stretch. He’s relatively young (was born in 1967), graduated from the Faculty of International Law of Kyiv State University with a qualification of specialist in international law (1991), the Law School of the Texas University (1997). In 1991-93 he had worked with the Georgian Foreign Ministry and had been appointed a consul of the Georgian embassy to Kazakhstan. In 1997-98 he had been director of the department of international law at the Georgian Foreign Ministry. He speaks Russian, Spanish, and English.
One could only make conjectures why a civilian was appointed as defense minister. Georgia has been developing its army in compliance with Western standards, after Saakashvili came to power, the functions of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff drastically differ. Meanwhile, as reported earlier, former defense minister David Tevzadze might be appointed chief of the General Staff. However, Saakashvili assigned this post to Major General Givi Iukuridze, who had earlier been chief of the Main Military Inspection subordinate to the president.
Seemingly, unlike his predecessor the new Georgian defense minister will treat the issues of strengthening his country’s defense potential and friendship with Russia seriously. At least the Kremlin has already assessed Bezhuashvili’s visit to Moscow as a positive step. The Georgian minister was quite loyal in his statements related to Moscow. The Georgian defense minister called Russia’s stance ensuring neutrality of its military bases in Georgia as “absolutely admissible.” “This is a civilized stance of foreign military presence, when the military doesn’t interfere with the domestic political affairs in the country of residence,” he said. However, Bezhuashvili laid emphasis on the negative points, saying that “until this day Russia’s military presence posed a threat to Georgia, since the military might have interfered into domestic political affairs of Georgia; we have sad experience of similar interference.”
It turned out that the Georgian leaders still have claims, related to withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia, although Georgia’s position in this issue has evidently been softened. “The deadline, the terms and other aspects related to withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia must be negotiated. These issues will be considered and positions of our states will be approached,” Bezhuashvili said. At the same time, he stressed that Georgia “is ready to develop bilateral military cooperation with Russia as a friendly state.”
Extenuate stand of the Georgian minister has an easy explanation. He arrived in Moscow as a suppliant. For instance, Bezhuashvili appealed to Russian deputies with a request to lift restrictions for military-technical cooperation with Georgia.
“The restrictions were imposed by a decree of the Supreme Council of Russia as far back as 1992, but the situation has changed since then and we think it must be revised,” he stated at his meeting with Viktor Zavarzin, chairman of the Duma defense committee. “I’ve recently met with General Alexander Studenikin, commander of the Group of Russian Forces in Transcaucasia and can come out with an official statement that we’ll be settling the questions about issuing visas for Russian servicemen, migration of Russian servicemen around Georgia,” Bezhuashvili said.
Similar problems were discussed with the Russian defense minister, although no specific decisions were passed. However, the tendency for improvement in Russian-Georgian relations has been evident. Several conclusions suggest themselves in this connection. Firstly, despite their pro-European orientation, the young reformers whop came to power in Georgia intend to develop active military and military-technical cooperation with Russia.
Secondly, this interaction Во-will concern the issues of joint protection of border, what Moscow had been seeking from Shevardnadze’s regime.
Thirdly, the aim for military interaction is apparently accounted for with the quickly increasing defensive potential of the troops and the settlement of domestic political problems, primarily those related to preservation of the country’s integrity.
Fourthly, Russia is likely to be successful at “bargaining” the acceptable deadline for withdrawal of their bases from Georgia. The joint use of the bases is not ruled out, which will extend the duration of their life.
However, Russia is unlikely to support Tbilisi’s military actions against its recalcitrant autonomies. It means that the attitude towards the friendship with its Caucasian neighbor will be cautious.