Military Modernization in Post Rose Revolution Georgia (Complete Series)

Below is a condensed version of my article series on military modernization in Georgia following the Rose Revolution.

Thank you for reading.

Eric Jones
Foreign Intrigue



On November 23, 2003, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned his office amidst calls for his removal. The Rose Revolution, a bloodless addition to a series of rebellions against authoritarian regimes largely since the breakup of the Soviet Union, has been hailed as a watershed moment in the history of The Color Revolutions. Shevardnadze, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs under soviet Premier Mikeil Gorbachev, assumed the office of President in Georgia 1995 following the former Soviet republic’s independence and statehood. In the years that followed the Rose revolution, insecurity over the capability of the Tbilisi government to repel an attack from outside its borders was compounded by Russian efforts to assert control over its near abroad states. These issues worked to catalyze the 2008 war between the two states. Consequently, Georgia’s inability to defend its borders and ensure the integrity of its territory scuttled efforts by the regime of President Mikheil Saakashvili to ensure integration of Georgia as a member state in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Saakashvili’s pursuit of membership in the Atlantic Alliance was largely borne of a latent insecurity with regard to its northern neighbor, Russia. This insecurity was exacerbated by unresolved separatist conflicts in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia and led to the 2008 war.

The crux of the insecurity for the Tbilisi regime and their motivation for urgent pursuit of NATO membership lay in the unresolved nature of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the relationship of those two conflicts with Russian military aggression. Georgia’s former patron in Moscow, concerned with influence over the internal policies of its near abroad (especially the former Soviet republics) was in a period of resurgent imperialism under Putin for the years immediately following the Rose Revolution. As Moscow intensified its efforts to assert control over the policies of its near abroad, issues of internal political network dynamics, regime strength, and economic restructuring in the post-Soviet era conflated to inspire insecurity in Tbilisi.

While the Rose Revolution catalyzed a modernization of the Georgian military for purposes of national defense and in order to meet basic requirements for integration to NATO, that military modernization effort failed due to factors in the execution of the reform policies. In its major test, the war fought in August 2008 against an invading Russian military force, the Georgian military proved incapable of defending the territorial integrity of the country against a large-scale invasion force. The primary causes of this failure will be researched, examined, and analyzed in an effort to place the failure of Georgian military modernization into the proper context and to provide understanding as to what led to the dramatic failure of the force in defending the country against the invasion by Russia.

Map of the South Caucasus. (Courtesy of Osipov Georgiy Nokka and Wikimedia Commons).

Map of the South Caucasus. (Courtesy of Osipov Georgiy Nokka and Wikimedia Commons).

The failure of the government in its effort to modernize the Georgian military, protect its territorial integrity, and provide for basic defense against invasion from its aggressive neighbor to the north was a pivotal moment in the post-revolution history of Georgia. The dramatic failure of the Georgian military in the war against Russia reflected an inability to provide for the country’s basic defense, reignited border conflicts, and did lasting damage to the government’s ability to ensure the legitimization of its pursuit for membership in NATO.

Due largely to President Saakashvili’s policy priorities including a fast track position for NATO membership, the Georgian army was insufficiently prepared to execute its basic missions in its first major test, the August 2008 war against Russia. Prior to the invasion, a series of events transpired to encourage distrust between Russia and Georgia. Russia, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev, was inspired through Georgia’s pursuit of integration into the European community to pursue an intensified resurgence of influence in the Caucasus. This confluence of circumstances catalyzed distrust between the governments of Tbilisi and Moscow and created a fissure in communication which was exacerbated by the unresolved conflicts in separatist regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia These two separatist conflicts, unresolved from previous wars, were later used as pawns by Moscow in an effort to ensure maximization of influence and power over the Caucasus region. External influencers included other conflicts such as that which wreaked havoc throughout the previous decade in neighboring Chechnya, an ongoing insurgency battle that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Chechens and Russians. While pursuit of the security engendered by prospective NATO membership was based upon a need for security against Russia, that pursuit facilitated the environment upon which Russia eventually invaded the country. In this three-part series, I will examine and explain the variables that led to the insecurity, which in turn catalyzed the conflict in Georgia culminating in the August war in 2008. Georgia’s failure to effectively execute the priorities for modernization laid out by Saakashvili following the Rose Revolution was the cause for the failure of the war in 2008 and not a failure in identifying the correct priorities.


Revolution: the Changing of the Guard

The Rose Revolution was a watershed moment in the history of the post-Soviet space. In many ways, the revolution represented the most successful popular uprising against the domination of old Soviet guard in the bureaucracies and political networks that controlled most of the new states comprised of former Soviet republics. For many across the post-Soviet space of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, the Rose Revolution represented an epochal change and a shifting of an old paradigm. For those who suffered through decades of Soviet domination and the years of independent statehood marked by political corruption, failed economic policies, and a struggle for legitimacy in the eyes of their prospective foreign investment partners in Europe and Asia, the Rose Revolution signified a changing of the guard. Specifically, the revolution was perceived by many Georgians as an essential moment in the effort to unchain Georgia from the old Soviet and communist bureaucratic leadership structure while moving to modernize the country with representative governance. It was believed that this evolution towards democratic governance would build international legitimacy and lend credence to Georgia’s efforts to join important supra-national political organizations such as the European Union (EU). The revolution was believed to be the best opportunity to facilitate the integration of the newly independent country into Western security organizations such as NATO. Membership in NATO was assessed in the years following the Rose Revolution to be the best option for ensuring the security of Georgia. This is largely due to multiple factors, among the most prominent of which was the clear inability of the Georgian military to unilaterally defend the country from external attack by Russia.

Facing border disputes in breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, unrest to the north in the form of Russian military conflict in restive Chechnya, and sharing a border with both Armenia and Azerbaijan as the two former Soviet republics continued to fight a war over Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgian security was a paramount priority for post-revolution government of newly elected President Saakashvili.

Following the revolution, the Saakashvili regime in Tbilisi embarked on an elaborate, complex, and difficult process of democratizing its government. In the years that followed the upheaval that dislodged the government of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and the rise of successor Saakashvili, Georgians found that the government that emerged in the wake of the revolution would ultimately prove incapable of institutionalizing reforms that could improve economic infrastructure and quality of life for the nation’s citizens. Accompanying the failure of the Saakashvili regime to qualitatively improve the standard of living for Georgian citizens was a proportionately reductive scale of trust in his leadership and the transparency of his government throughout the period between 2004 and 2008.

As society continued to fracture between 2004 and 2008, the frozen conflicts in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia threatened to destroy Tbilisi’s assertive control over the entirety of its territorial integrity. The conflicts in the two separatist regions were further exacerbated by Russian interference, most notably in the form of military and intelligence support for insurrectionist elements. Russia’s interest in fomenting dissent and exacerbating the growing fissures between the governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was borne of a latent fear of European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansionism that threatened to absorb Georgia and place it permanently underneath the protective security and economic umbrella of the European community. Russia’s geopolitical interest in ensuring that Georgia did not join the EU or the Atlantic Alliance was rooted solidly in a fear that a permanent NATO base on its southern border would represent a significant threat to the future of Russian military modernization and the sustainability of an improving Russian economy. Russian policymakers and strategists simply could not allow a permanent NATO presence on its southern flank, especially in the context of the integration of the former Soviet states of the Baltic nations into NATO. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were made official members of NATO on March 29, 2004. Like the first post-Soviet breakup iteration of NATO enlargement on March 12,1999, the inclusion of the Baltic states further calcified the fears of Russian strategists that the Atlantic Alliance was encircling the faltering Russian state.

Russia’s support for separatist regimes in the two breakaway regions culminated in a five-day war in August 2008. In the aftermath of the conflict, Georgia’s military was operationally annihilated. Throughout the short duration of the war, the Georgian armed forces proved incapable of providing basic defense for the borders of the country. The reflection of incompetence in command, the failure of ground forces to hold territory and repel attacks, and the government’s inability to demonstrate effective defense and maintain territorial integrity reflected, in very vivid fashion, that Georgia had not met the fundamental requirements for membership in the NATO alliance. In defeating the Georgian military in such a decisive and quick manner, Russian strategists and policymakers demonstrated that Georgia was incapable of meeting the basic measurements in the evaluation process of a prospective member of NATO. Particularly egregious were the Georgian government’s failure to secure its territorial integrity, resolve border disputes, and demonstrate that its security structure could adequately defend itself against an external threat. This external threat materialized in August 2008. As Ronald Asmus writes in his book A Little War That Shook the World:

The Russo-Georgian war of August 2008 lasted a mere five days. Casualties were modest. By the standards of modern warfare, it was a little war. It was nevertheless a little war that shook the world. It sparked the greatest crisis in European security since Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic unleashed the dogs of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the 1990s and brought Russia and the West to the edge of a new cold war… It broke the cardinal rule of post-Cold War European security that borders in Europe would never again be changed by force of arms. In August 2008, Russia showed an ugly neo-imperialist side of its policy that many in the West had hoped was gone.” (Ronald Asmus, A Little War That Shook the World)

In Part Two, I will explain how NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP) and the Atlantic Alliance’s integration protocols inspired a re-prioritization of national security goals. Saakhashvili’s pursuit of NATO membership and the security umbrella of the West catalyzed new national security strategies but ultimately failed to prepare Georgia militarily for defense against the external threat of Russian aggressive policy and military action.
(Part Two)

Failure: NATO, MAP, and Integration Efforts

NATO was founded on April 4, 1949 with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty. The foundation for the so-called Atlantic Alliance is Article V, which is invoked with an attack upon a member state:

“…the basis of a fundamental principle of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It provides that if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked. This is the principle of collective defence.” (NATO and the Scourge of Terrorism)

Codified and implemented into the original treaty, the article provides for the collective defense of the member states, guaranteeing the military and political support of all states in the event of an attack against one or more:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security. (“NATO and the Scourge of Terrorism”)

Map of the Caucasus and its proximity to NATO member Turkey and the Middle East.

Map of the Caucasus. Note Georgia’s geographic location with regard to NATO member Turkey and the country’s proximity to the wider Middle East.

The so-called “Membership Action Plan” (MAP), laid out by NATO leaders in 1999, lists five areas of progress by which a prospective member state would be measured while undergoing evaluation for admission to the Atlantic Alliance. The plan is a roadmap for admission of new member states to NATO. Through meeting each of the standards, a member state theoretically sustains the MAP standard in key areas of political stability, military capability, and economic expenditure that ensures the state will meet requirements if Article V is implemented. Each of the five steps is benchmark standard that prospective member states are encouraged to achieve in order to thoroughly present a case for membership to the alliance. NATO officially states that MAP is the Atlantic Alliance’s program designed to integrate prospective member states:

The Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a NATO programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. Participation in the MAP does not prejudge any decision by the Alliance on future membership. (“NATO and the Scourge of Terrorism”)

The MAP is an important factor in any analysis of the catalysts for the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. In the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the creation of the Russian Federation, the geopolitical interests of the regime in Moscow largely revolved around preserving the historical influence of Russia over its so-called “near abroad”. In the years immediately after the independence of the former Soviet republics and former member states in the defunct Warsaw Pact, Russian policy makers and strategists worked to ensure that Western enlargement of both the EU and NATO did not encroach upon the near abroad.

The latent fear among strategists in Moscow was a permanent loss of political and military influence over the former Soviet republics, specifically. In negotiating from a position of weakness as the so-called “shock therapy” economic reforms of the nascent Russian state catalyzed hyper-inflation and dramatically escalating unemployment, Russian President Boris Yeltsin ceded to NATO insistence that the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary be placed on a path to member state status. In 1995, Yeltsin and United States President Bill Clinton signed an agreement that would essentially pave the way toward reduced Russian influence over its near abroad and pave the way for other states to be integrated to the Atlantic Alliance. At the conclusion of a summit in Moscow between the Russian and American presidents, the way forward for NATO expansion was cemented, establishing in no small way the basis for how the geopolitical interests of western European nations and those of a Russian state under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin was eventually conflate to catalyze the 2008 war in Georgia:

In Budapest in December, Mr. Yeltsin stiffly warned Mr. Clinton of the dangers of a “cold peace,” condemned new divisions in Europe and blocked Russia’s path toward a partnership with NATO. The partnership is intended to bring former members of the Warsaw Pact into a closer relationship with NATO that could lead to full membership.

Russia remains opposed to rapid NATO expansion to Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Washington says talks on NATO expansion will take place, gradually and openly, regardless of Moscow’s views.

Mr. Yeltsin was always unlikely to bless NATO expansion now, as Russia, with much military display, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the victory over Nazism, which put the eastern half of Europe under Moscow’s sway in the first place. (Steven Erlanger, “Summit in Moscow: The Overview; Clinton and Yeltsin Find Way to Ease Strains at Least a Bit”, The New York Times, May 11, 1995)

Moscow’s primary concern was the slow encroachment of NATO to its western and southern flanks. The newly independent states occupying the land in this region were former Soviet republics. These states included the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, countries that would become members of the Atlantic Alliance in its sixth iteration of enlargement, signing on in March 2004 (RG Gidadhubli, “Expansion of NATO: Russia’s Dilemma”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. 39, No. 19, May 8-14, 2004 {p. 1885-1887}). The strategic location of these three states specifically inspired growing concern among Russian nationalists that NATO would enlarge to the very doorstep of the Russian Federation. As RG Gidadhubli noted at the time of enlargement of the Baltic nations:

Russian leaders were extremely concerned about the security of Russia on the issue of the ‘current military doctrine of expansion of NATO’ and in particular that of the Baltic states joining this alliance. They faced a serious dilemma as to how to respond to the new situation. It was possibly felt that the policy of confrontation with NATO under new scenario in Europe would have led to the isolation of Russia, which was not in Russia’s interest. Similarly, some Russian leaders and political analysts realized the fact that a strong view prevailed among the western powers that the expansion of EU and NATO should help build a secure, stable, and prosperous Europe. Hence it was a pragmatic consideration of the fact that Russia had much to gain from this scenario.[6]

This iteration of NATO enlargement, specifically, calcified the fears of Russian officials that eventual integration of Ukraine and Georgia (both former Soviet republics) was a top priority of NATO strategists.

In 2008, NATO held its 20th summit in Bucharest, Romania. The summit codified Georgia’s pursuit of membership in the Atlantic Alliance. Strongly supported by the administration of President George W. Bush of the United States, Georgia found strong opposition to its membership ambitions in Russia. Inside the alliance, the governments of Germany (led by Chancellor Angela Merkel), Great Britain (led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown), and France (President Nicolas Sarkozy) noted support for Georgia (as well as Ukraine) in joining NATO but reserved judgment on the proper time for implementation of MAP specifically in integrating Georgia. The New York Times reported:

The debate is ostensibly over the mechanisms through which Georgia and Ukraine will, at some point, become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the real debate is over relations with Russia, especially in the aftermath of its conflict last summer with Georgia. And those ties with Moscow are wrapped up in domestic politics, both in Germany and the United States. (Steven Erlanger, The New York Times, “Georgia and Ukraine Split NATO Members”, October 30, 2008.)

In my conclusion, part three, I will explain how the efforts of the Saakashvili regime to modernize the military failed to adequately prepare Georgia to defend itself against a large threat that was facing the country: an attack by an external power. In the case of the war that would materialize in August 2008, that external power would turn out to be Russia.
(Part Three)

The Military Reform Process Under Saakashvili

Much of the prioritization of security and pursuit of NATO membership (a policy which in turn caused insecurity in Moscow), revolved around the issue of the unresolved separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As stated by Robert Legvold in his chapter “Outlining the Challenge” in Statehood and Security: Georgia After the Rose Revolution:

The reality that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are defacto mini-states within Georgia’s borders, that Georgian writ has no standing in areas seen as integral to the Georgian state, and that the national government remains powerless to change the question of national security as nothing else can.

Because Russia is universally perceived as originally a party to Abkhazian separatism, subsequently as an obstacle to a Georgian-Abkhazian settlement, and ultimately as manipulating the Russian-Abkhazian relationship to pressure Tbilisi, the internal dimension of Georgian security automatically becomes international and highly inflammatory. Russia, viewd from the Georgian perspective, constitutes the single most dangerous factor in Georgia’s international environment. The reasons are many: Russia is seen as having stalled on the removal of its remaining military basese in Georgia in order to intimidate Georgia’s leaders or at least to prevent these facilitites from falling into U.S. or NATO hands.; it is viewed as bullying and willing to violate Georgian sovereignty if it thinks its war in Chechnya warrants it; it is assumed to be behind past attempts to assassinate former President Shevardnadze; and it is suspected of doing everything from interrupting gas services to conniving with the regime’s opponents in order to dictate Georgia’s choices. But what consolidates these impressions and gives them special resonance is Russia’s assumed readiness to abet Abkhazian and Ossetian separatism or, at a minimum, to exploit these conflicts with the aim of weakening or pressuring Georgia’s national leadership. (Robert Legvold, “Outlining the Challenge,” in Bruno Coppieters and Robert Legvold, eds., Statehood and Security {Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2005}, 13-14.)

The issue of separatism was impacted greatly by the Saakashvili government’s efforts to modernize the Georgian military in the wake of the Rose Revolution. The Georgian military had previously gone through phases of reform and modernization after independence. After performing below acceptable standards in the battle against Abkhazian separatists in the wars following independence, efforts had been made by the Shevardnadze government to sustain a level of competence in executing the basic tasks of defending the country from external attack as well as battling the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In the aftermath of the civil war, reform for the Georgian military was determined to be a high priority. In assessing the shortcomings of the performance of the Georgian military during the civil war, Pukhov notes:

On the whole, the Georgian military effort in Abkhazia was plagued by the lack of a single military command and the resulting inability to concentrate the resources and manpower where it really mattered. It also suffered from undisciplined commanders in the field, who were often too eager for glory to follow orders. (Vyacheslav Tseluiko, “Georgian Army Reform under Saakashvili Prior to the 2008 Five Day War”, The Tanks of August {Moscow: Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, 2010}, 10)

Tseluiko goes on to assess the impact of the reforms that took place under both Shevardnadze and Saakashvili and how they contributed to the performance of the Georgian military during the war in August 2008. Specifically, Tseluiko notes procurement of arms and equipment by Georgia in the years following the civil war and prior to the revolution under the leadership of Shevardnadze:

Apart from training, Georgia also received foreign assistance in the form of arms and equipment. The United States donated scores of trucks and 10 Bell UH-1H helicopters (four of them were to be cannibalized for parts). Another two helicopters of the same type were received from Turkey. Ukraine gave 10 L-29 trainer jets and the Tbilisi fast attack craft-missile (Project 206MR). On the whole, the Georgian army had begun to improve undershevardnadze- but that process continued at a much greater pace following the arrival of Saakashvili. (Vyacheslav Tseluiko, “Georgian Army Reform under Saakashvili Prior to the 2008 Five Day War”, The Tanks of August {Moscow: Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, 2010}, 10)

Photo courtesy of DivineDanteRay and Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of DivineDanteRay and Wikimedia Commons.

Under Saakashvili, the modernization process surged. A noted reformer and a man deeply skeptical of Russian motivations and security goals, Saakashvili’s military reforms were borne largely out of fear that Russian aggression would eventually materialize in the form of armed conflict in Georgia. Saakhashvili ordered reviews of defense policy and sought to gain understanding of the types of reform policies that would improve Georgia’s ability to defend itself against attack. Priorities were listed as territorial integrity, stability in the Caucasus and the Black Sea region, and securing a role for Georgia as a transit corridor. (Ibid, Tseluiko) In addition to priorities, Saakashvili also laid out the challenges that the country’s army would face. They included violations of Georgia’s territorial integrity, the spread of armed conflict from outside the country, military aggression by other nations, terrorist attacks and sabotage against infrastructure, contraband and international crime, and the threat posed by Russian military bases located on Georgian territory pending withdrawal. (Ibid, Tseluiko) The threat posed by large-scale aggression was prioritized the highest. While the priorities were appropriately understood and the threats anticipated correctly, the Georgian military found itself failing in its test during the war in 2008. In short, the execution of policies driven by the priorities and the threat assessment led to the failure of the army in performing the task of defending the country during the war of August 2008.

Preparations for conflict, primarily in the style of large-scale aggression, were codified in planning strategy. Additionally, the Georgian forces were required to be able to take part “…in military action as part of a coaition as well as to fight on their own in situations such as foreign aggression.” (Ibid, Tseluiko) This latter point speaks to Saakashvili’s motivation to prove that his military forces were capable of both defending the territorial integrity of the country as well as integrating into a joint military command effectively. These two points are salient: these requirements were an effort to ensure that the country was following the path laid out in MAP to membership in NATO. But as Tseluiko points out, the reorganization of the Georgian army in that effort meant a diversion of forces and valuable supplies to missions where NATO and the US participated. In this respect, the diversionary nature of the Iraq war reduced the effectiveness of the Georgian army. While the army’s participation in the Iraq war gained it valuable experience in joint operations, it diverted from time that would have been spent training the force to defend against large-scale aggression. In a campaign of counter-guerilla warfare in Iraq, the Georgian army did not experience the type of mission that would it would later have to face in the war against the Russian invaders. The priorities of the Saakashvili policy reforms, to defend against a conventional large-scale aggressor, were left behind as the army fought an unconventional campaign in Iraq. Tseluiko summarizes it this way:

  1. The development of Georgia’s military capability in 2003-2008 was adversely affected by two contradictory approaches to the overall task of protecting the country from large-scale foreign aggression. One was for Georgia to join NATO, the other to rely on its own army.
  2. Georgia was making no secret of the fact that it viewed Russia as its most likely adversary. Russia figured first and foremost in the Saakashvili regime’s planning for both the most dangerous scenario (large-scale aggression) and the most likely (escalation in the form autonomies).
  3. The requirement for the Goergian army to be prepared for the two different scenarios (the most likely and the most dangerous) translated into the need for a universal combat capability.
  4. To fend off potential Russian aggression, the Georgian government relied on the doctrine of Total Defense, based on the heavy involvement of the civilian population as part of a large military reserve. (Vyacheslav Tseluiko, “Georgian Army Reform under Saakashvili Prior to the 2008 Five Day War”, The Tanks of August {Moscow: Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, 2010}, 10)

The restructuring of the command elements under Saakashvili was another important aspect of the regime’s reform efforts. These were made in accordance with NATO recommendations. (Ibid, Tseluiko) The issue arose that this restructuring was fundamentally at odds with Saakashvili’s “ambition to ‘restore the territorial integrity’ of the country. (Ibid, Tseluiko) The army was increased from 28,000 to 32,000 in personnel strength on September 14, 2007. (Ibid, Tseluiko) Many of the new elements were not provided time to complete training courses and were consequently not ready for employment against an armed aggressor. Later, in July 2008 as the army was again expanded (this time to 37,000), the restructuring was far from complete and the command element reconceptualization had not been streamlined for capability.


So, in the final sense, what caused the failure of the military modernization policy reformation and the effort to ensure Georgian defense capability against the Russian invasion? In total, while the prioritizations of defense against a large-scale aggressor and the modernization of equipment, weapons, and training were appropriately laid out by Saakashvili’s government after it took power, the Georgian army failed in its test against Russia largely due to two overarching factors:

  1. The deployment of Georgian army elements to Iraq was in support of an unconventional mission. This was in direct contravention of established priority to modernize the military to defend the country against a large-scale aggressor and to regain control over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The task of fighting an unconventional mission was at the expense of training to fight a conventional threat.
  2. The failure of the Georgian army to thoroughly complete the training of new units and the expansion of the ranks to include personnel with no previous experience constrained the time by which the army could be prepared to fight the invading Russian force. This rapid modernization effort traded efficiency for numbers.
Photo courtesy of Rob Sinclair and Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of Rob Sinclair and Wikimedia Commons.

Exacerbating the conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow was the Georgian army’s preoccupation with the war in Iraq. This diversion effectively reduced training time for new army personnel, affected the integration of a new command structure and its familiarity with the force, and provided unconventional war experience to an army that would be called upon to fight a conventional fight in 2008. Further, while the priorities laid out by Saakashvili in his effort to reform the military were focused and proved to be anticipatory of the threat that Georgia would face, the earnestness in which Saakashvili pursued joint integration with the U.S. proved to divert the military from training time concentrating on large-scale aggressor threats and placed a large component of the Georgian military abroad (in Iraq) during the time that Russia invaded.

The decision to deploy the Georgian army in support of U.S.-led operations in Iraq perhaps enticed the Russian government, under the leadership of Medvedev, that invading in August 2008 would lead to an easy victory. It is likely that the lack of readiness, embodied by the ineffective training of the new force personnel and the deployment of forces to Iraq during the timeframe of the summer of 2008, encouraged the Russian command to recommend invasion in August 2008. The speed at which the Georgian army modernized was beneficial in procurement of weapons and equipment. While the enlargement of the force structure itself, from 18,000 to an eventual 37,000, was impressive, it was not adequately trained. Thoroughness in training the new force was expended for the expediency of garnering experience in joint command through participation in the Iraq war. While the army itself grew rapidly and impressively, its capability in defending the country against attack in the war of August 2008 was rendered ineffective due to execution of policy, not the prioritization of reform policies.


(Featured photo courtesy of Kober and Wikimedia Commons)