Wikileaks: Importance of Continued Military Engagement with Georgia

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SUBJECT: IMPORTANCE OF CONTINUED MILITARY ENGAGEMENT WITH
GEORGIA

REF: MOSCOW 1591

Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary. The June 22 kickoff of the U.S.-Georgia
Charter Commission will raise the question of the future of
our military cooperation. Embassy Moscow's recent cable
(reftel) has highlighted Russian views and the potential
impact on our attempt to reset our relations with Moscow.
There are, however, strong arguments in favor of providing
Georgia a modest, transparent defensive capability. We
provide our views in this cable. In our assessment, the
Russians are effectively using propaganda based in falsehoods
regarding the current state of the Georgian military to
ratchet up tensions, while simultaneously impressing upon the
U.S. that any efforts to provide military assistance to
Georgia will pose potential roadblocks to improving the
U.S.-Russia relationship. Accepting Russian objections,
however, contradicts stated U.S. policies such as rejecting
the notion of spheres of influence; refusing a third party
veto over NATO membership; and maintaining equal commitment
to relations with both Russia and Georgia. It gives Russian
disinformation an undeserved voice in U.S. policy formation.

2. (C) Summary, continued: Embassy Tbilisi believes that
increased transparent military cooperation could help
stabilize the situation in Georgia, as Georgia seeks to
develop its defensive capacity -- and even decrease the size
of its standing army. Retreating from our commitments would
send a profoundly mixed signal to our partners in the region
and in western Europe, especially to those who are
considering opening up their society, increasing
transparency, and seeking increased partnership with the
west. Russia will undoubtedly object to increased military
cooperation, but the answer is not to validate their concern,
but to set the record straight in an organized, aggressive
private and public diplomacy campaign with both Russia and
our broader partners. To do otherwise would be to reward
Russia's aggression in Georgia, as well as its violation of
international law and commitments; encourage a similar stance
in Ukraine; and deal a body blow to our credibility in
Georgia, other Eurasian states, our western partners -- and
ultimately Russia itself. End summary.

THE GEORGIAN ARMY HAS NOT RE-ARMED

3. (C) Russian claims that Georgia has more military
capability now than in August 2008,or that it has been
steadily re-arming its forces, are false. During the August
2008 conflict, Georgia lost extensive capabilities, including
30 percent of its armored vehicles, 40 percent of
U.S.-produced AR-15 rifles, and at least 60 percent of its
air defense capability. These have not been replaced. We
are aware of only two deliveries of lethal military equipment
since the war: Ejder armored personnel carriers from a
Turkish firm, based on a pre-war contract; and 16 armored
HMMWVs for the Special Forces Brigade under a program begun
in 2007. The latter were purchased using Coalition Support
Funds, the case was processed before the August war, and the
vehicles would be used in such coalition operations as those
in Afghanistan. The U.S. and other NATO partners have moved
cautiously since the war. Bilateral military-to-military
events between NATO partners and Georgia have been reduced,
Qevents between NATO partners and Georgia have been reduced,
suspended, even terminated. The U.S. in particular has yet
to renew a capacity-building program begun months ago, and we
have not executed a single kinetic event since August,
despite Georgian desires for more tactical training. The
NATO PfP Lancer/Longbow exercises, publicly used by Russia
against the Alliance and Georgia, were planned more than a
year in advance with full Russian knowledge and possibility
for participation.

JOINING THE AFGHANISTAN COALITION

4. (C) Secretary Gates' approach on security cooperation of
"brains before brawn" (B3) focuses on the intellectual
development of the Georgian armed forces and is non-kinetic
in nature. The U.S. has now told Georgia we accepted their
offer to deploy a battalion for two years in RC-South, one of
the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. While it is not yet
known how much training and equipping will be needed to bring
Georgia effectively into the coalition, it is in both U.S.
and Russian interests to widen the coalition in Afghanistan.
Some lethal training will undoubtedly be involved, and we
should not allow Russia to twist any such cooperation in

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Afghanistan, one of the Administration's top priorities, into
a phantom threat.

MINIMAL DEFENSIVE CAPABILITIES NEEDED FOR SURVIVAL

5. (C) Georgia also wants to rebuild its native defensive
capacity, which is currently insufficient to control its own
airspace or hinder an invasion from any of its neighbors.
Current Georgian operational thinking is that if they can
defend Tbilisi from occupation for 72 hours, then
international pressure will force the advance to pause. To
achieve this extremely limited goal, Georgia needs sufficient
anti-armor and air defense capability to stall a ground
advance, which it currently lacks. The development of this
capacity is not solely equipment-based, but it will require
the acquisition of new lethal defensive systems. If Georgia
does not procure the equipment from the U.S., it will almost
surely seek to procure it elsewhere, as it has done in the
past. U.S. involvement would help ensure the transparency of
the procurement process itself, as well as increase our
control over the amount, type and location of the equipment.

6. (C) In addition, Minister Sikharulidze recently approved
an intermediate force structure change that would reduce the
Georgian Armed Forces total personnel strength by 6,000
service members from the current 36,000. (Current actual
personnel is approximately 31,000.) Without prejudging the
ongoing Strategic Assessment process, the Minister has
confided to us that the final Georgian force structure will
be below 30,000. The Georgians have not publicized this
proposed downsizing because they fear that a smaller Georgian
Army could encourage Russian armed incursions. Furthermore,
a recently proposed further 7 percent reduction in the
defense budget will drop Georgia's total defense spending to
less than half of 2008 levels.

7. (C) Georgia's military plan is defensive in nature. As
EUR Assistant Secretary Gordon recently noted to Georgian
Defense Minister Sikharulidze, every country has the right to
defend itself - as described in Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Russia may argue no weapon is only defensive in nature;
anti-tank and air defense systems, however, would not give
Georgia the capacity to launch an offensive attack. Russia
may argue that Georgia is acquiring other, more offensive
systems clandestinely at the same time. There is no evidence
to support this assertion, and we would have a much greater
degree of influence -- and be in a position to keep Russia
well informed -- if we were involved in defensive system
procurement. Finally, Russia will likely level allegations
of increased Georgian offensive capacity regardless of facts,
just as they have done in the Geneva process. Georgia,
however, provides far more transparency on its military
forces than virtually any country in the world, signing MOUs
between the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) and its Ministries
of Defense and Internal Affairs that give the observers
unprecedented access to Georgian military and law enforcement
installations. The EUMM, along with the OSCE, has repeatedly
affirmed that Georgia has respected the limits established in
those MOUs and has no offensive capability near Abkhazia and
South Ossetia. Russia essentially ignores these statements
and continues to level the same allegations, but that bluster
Qand continues to level the same allegations, but that bluster
does not change the fact of Georgia's continued restraint.
As we seek to help Georgia develop its defensive capacity, we
could pursue smilar public and/or written commitments from
the Georgians on the exclusively defensive nature of the
program.

8. (C) We believe that providing Georgia with enhanced
defensive capabilities will stabilize the situation. While
Russia, as well as the de facto regimes in Abkhazia and South
Ossetia, may argue otherwise, it is Russia and its proxy
regimes that have dramatically increased the militarization
of Georgia over the past year. Russia has introduced at
least 3,700 troops into sovereign Georgian territory, as well
as heavy military equipment, such as tanks, artillery and
anti-aircraft systems, into the area immediately adjacent to
the administrative boundaries -- in direct violation of the
commitments President Medvedev made in the cease-fire
agreement. It is Georgia that has lost 14 police officers
since the war; kidnappings, cattle thefts, and detentions
continue along the boundary, mostly on the Abkhaz and South
Ossetian sides. Russian helicopters make regular flights
along the boundaries, sometimes crossing them, and Russian
forces move large numbers of troops and heavy equipment along
the boundaries at will. Meanwhile, the EUMM, OSCE and UNOMIG

TBILISI 00001123 003 OF 004

continue to confirm Georgia's cooperative and constructive
approach. There is little to deter Russia from taking
additional military action, except a legitimate defensive
force opposing it. At the same time, such a force would not
pose an offensive threat to the regions.

9. (C) Retreating from military cooperation would be a step
back from commitments we have made to Georgia and other
international partners. Not only will Georgia be
disappointed in our diminished support, and hesitant to trust
us again, but other partners will draw the same conclusions.
The Russia-Georgia war has already led some countries, such
as Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states, to question the
extent of our commitment, even though we never committed to
the direct military defense of Georgia. A step back from
commitments we have made would remove any doubt in our
unreliability and convince countries from Belarus to
Kyrgyzstan, even as they try to recalibrate their own
relationship with Russia, that the risks of continuing
partnership with Russia are less than those of moving toward
cooperation with the United States. One of our specific
commitments has been to NATO membership for Georgia,
politically at the Bucharest Summit, and at the operational
level, with the Georgia-NATO Commission and the Annual
National Plan. A key component of that process is the
development of Georgia's homeland defense capacity. Since
last August we have engaged with Georgia on elements of their
preparation for Euro-Atlantic integration, but the military
component cannot be deferred indefinitely. The longer we
defer action, the clearer the message will be to Georgia and
others that our commitment to membership has diminished.

10. (C) Beyond our specific commitment to Georgia, we have
made broader commitments not to allow Russia to impose its
flawed zero-sum vision on our own strategic view of the
world. The Secretary explicitly rejected Russia's notion of
spheres of influence during her May 7 meeting with Foreign
Minister Lavrov. The Vice President rejected the same notion
at the February Munich Security Conference. The President
himself told President Medvedev the same thing in London.
All three have likewise expressed unequivocal support for
Georgia's NATO aspirations and territorial integrity. Any
perceived or real retreat from these unambiguous statements
-- and our special relationship with Georgia makes it a test
case -- will raise questions about our leadership.

LOOKING AHEAD

11. (C) A difficult, but crucial, element of our strategy for
continuing engagement with Georgia while maintaining a good
relationship with Russia will be an aggressive private, as
well as public diplomacy campaign that is well coordinated
with our western partners. Russia will try to spin any
military cooperation as negatively as possible, but we must
not allow Russian disinformation to go unchallenged. As
noted above, we have already taken the first step in our
engagement with the Georgian military: agreeing together on
the B3 approach. We are currently exploring the best fit for
a Georgian contribution to the effort in Afghanistan.
Neither of these areas could be considered threatening. A
further step, toward helping Georgia improve its defensive
capacity, would not be inherently threatening, and could help
Qcapacity, would not be inherently threatening, and could help
stabilize the situation. We must resist efforts to cast it
any other way. Russia will likely continue to portray NATO
engagement as threatening.

12. (C) More fundamentally, Russia continues to characterize
our differing agendas in the post-Soviet space as a zero-sum,
new "Great Game". Unlike in the 19th century, when two
empires vied to establish control over the intervening
territory in the exclusive pursuit of their own narrow
interests, U.S. policy seeks to enable independent countries
to make their own choices. However real the perception may
be among Russians that the United States is out to get them,
we must resist all efforts to confuse that perception with
our true intentions. Georgia is seeking to choose its own
partners, defend its own country, establish a market-based
economy free of corruption, and further develop its young
democracy -- and we are helping it do so. Georgia poses no
threat to Russia; it wants the political space to pursue its
own path. To step back from our mission because Russia
mitrusts our motives is to cede to Russia the terms of
development in Eurasia for the foreseeable future.

13. (C) There are two practical steps that we might consider

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pursuing to help both address the real danger of instability
and blunt Russia's momentum in the public diplomacy sphere.
First, we could encourage Georgia to make public and/or
written commitments about the exclusively defensive nature of
its new military programs. Second, we could encourage
Georgia to offer to sign a non-use of force agreement with
Russia. Russia has been pushing hard for such an agreement
between Georgia and its own regions, which Georgia has
understandably been unwilling to consider. If Georgia were
to call Russia's bluff and offer to sign such an agreement
with Russia itself, however, the burden would shift to Russia
to demonstrate the sincerity of its commitment to stability.
It is unlikely that Russia, which still maintains the fiction
that it is not a party to the conflict, would accept
Georgia's offer, but it would be left on the defensive.
Meanwhile Georgia could pursue its defensive development with
a ready answer to any Russian claims of belligerence or
provocation. (Note: Embassy Tbilisi has not explored either
of these steps with Georgia, so they are only ideas at this
point, but experience suggests Georgia would at least be
willing to consider them. The steps Georgia has already
taken to provide transparency on its military and law
enforcement activities suggest they would be willing to take
similar steps. In the months after the war, senior Georgian
officials expressed their willingness to pursue a non-use of
force agreement if Russia made certain concessions. End
note.)

COMMENT: BALANCING RISKS

14. (C) Embassy Tbilisi does not question the importance or
difficulty of managing our relationship with Russia,
especially if we proceed with further military cooperation
with Georgia. No matter how loudly we insist on the true
state of affairs, most Russians at this point will either not
believe us or ignore us, as Embassy Moscow pointed out.
There is indeed a risk that taking the next step with Georgia
will jeopardize the improvement of our relationship with
Russia. There is also a risk, however, that not taking that
step will both foster further instability in Georgia and
jeopardize our credibility in a much broader space.
Furthermore, as past experience has shown, there is yet
another risk: that improvements in relations with Russia,
even if bought with compromises on other U.S. interests, will
not pay off with any real dividends. Embassy Tbilisi would
argue that sacrificing a relationship with a dedicated
partner like Georgia is the greater risk, because it will
only embolden Russia in the future, both to push for more
concessions on our part and to reassert its perceived sphere
of influence further. Up to this point, Russia has paid no
concrete penalty whatsoever for invading and occupying a
neighboring country; unilaterally recognizing two of its
regions as independent states; violating CFE and cease-fire
commitments by vastly increasing its military presence in
those regions and not allowing humanitarian access;
corrupting the original concept of the Geneva process into a
forum to lend legitimacy to the regions; blocking a
status-neutral effort by the international community, through
the OSCE, to promote stability; and killing the UN Observer
Mission in Georgia. Allowing Russia to dictate the pace of
QMission in Georgia. Allowing Russia to dictate the pace of
military engagement with Georgia will be seen as rewarding
Russia for its behavior. It could only be a matter of time
before it takes similar actions in Ukraine or elsewhere.
TEFFT

http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/2009/06/09TBILISI1123.html

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