The Russian Defense Ministry has handed over the Tbilisi Armored Vehicle Repair Plant to the balance of the Georgian Defense Ministry, the Russian and Georgian media reported of late. Colonel Levan Nikolaishvili, deputy chief of the Georgian General Staff, and Colonel Andrei Popov, deputy chief of the headquarters of the Russian Group of Forces in the Caucasus (GRVZ) signed the corresponding agreement on February 2. Under the agreement, Russia is obliged to repay the debt to the Georgian budget for communal services and renting. Tbilisi is saying that the plant was allegedly handed over in the framework of the Istanbul agreements of 1999 on withdrawal of the Russian military bases and military hardware from Georgia. This is not entirely so, since in Istanbul the matter only concerned withdrawal of the Russian military bases from Vaziani and Gudauta and granting permission for temporary deployment of Russian bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi. The documents signed in Istanbul mention no other military objects, including a military plant. Thus, handing over the tank repair plant has been the initiative of Moscow.

The observers have already assessed negative effects of this action. Firstly, according to observers with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, until lately under repair in Tbilisi have been Georgian and Russian tanks, as well as the armored vehicles for the Armenian army. In this connection official Baku accused Georgia several years ago of giving military aid to the unfriendly Yerevan. Baku then refused to accept an offer of such services for the Azerbaijani army in Baku, initiated by Georgia and the GRVZ command. It is clear now that the enterprise has been the property of Georgia and it will be harder for Yerevan to repair its tanks.

Secondly, Vladimir Popov, academician at the Academy of Military Sciences, told WPS, “handing over a Russian tank repair plant to Georgia by the GRVZ means that Moscow is indirectly supporting preparation of the Georgian troops for invasion in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” Popov reminds that in June 1992 Russia already handed over military plants, objects and armored hardware of the former Soviet Trans-Caucasian Military District to Georgia (modern tanks included). Several weeks later these tanks took part in the fratricidal war on approaches to Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. The situation differs now. However, the Georgian president doesn’t rule out the script of subduing the intractable autonomies by force. In this case the specialists won’t have time to idle at the tank repair plant.

Evident is the situation when Russia has initiated the loss of its geopolitical and military influence in Georgia to some extent. Undoubtedly, detached repair battalions are included into GRVZ units. However, they are unable to perform mid-life and major repair of combatant vehicles. It means the Russian General Staff has doomed the military hardware of the GRVZ to slow extinction. As is widely known, Georgia is trying as hard as it can to weaken the GRVZ. Other steps linked to reducing the number of Russian military objects in this country will follow the above action.

Perhaps Moscow is not insisting on the long-term stay of its military bases in Georgia and plans to change their profile into peacekeeping or anti-terrorist centers. In opinion of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, “such centers must have nothing in common with military bases. This could be an utterly different form of military co-operation, which meets the Russian-Georgian interests and promotes resolution of the problems available,” the minister said. It is not a secret that Georgia is after NATO membership and is increasing its armed forces with the aid of the USA. Georgia’s military budget is about $65 million now. In 2005 the Pentagon intends to allocate $60 million more for a year-long training of four battalions in Georgia. The Pentagon had already allocated $64 million in the framework of the Training & Equip program earlier, which were used to train four army special force battalions and several units for other security structures. All these units are being used in Iraq now. The observers don’t rule out that on gaining experience the Georgian commandos might commence hostilities against Abkhazia and South Ossetia.