Georgia Wants to Sell its Soviet Tanks and Helicopters

December 11, 2013
Photo: REUTERS / David Mdzinarishvili

Georgia is considering getting rid of its Soviet and Russian weapons, primarily its T-55 and T‑72 tanks, and its Mi-8 helicopters. According to the Ministry of Defense there are “several dozen” of such machines. In the current conditions it doesn’t seem feasible to have them repaired in Russia or to get spare parts from Russia. Until recently this has been facilitated by Ukraine, but now Kiev requires a more substantial fee for such services.

Irakli Sesiashvili, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and National Security of Georgia, confirmed to Izvestia that this issue is being discussed.

“We are trying to decide what to do with these weapons, said the deputy. It’s a complex issue that requires further detailed consideration.”

Irakli Aladashvili, the Editor-in-Chief of the military magazine Arsenal, told Izvestia that the Defense Ministry considers selling the equipment that is still operational.

“It could be sold, for example, to one of the African countries,” believes the expert.

The proceeds, including the money that will be saved on repairs and maintenance, should, in his opinion, be used to procure modern air defense systems and anti-tank weapons. The war with Russia in 2008 showed that this is what is most needed by Georgian Armed Forces.

However, according to him, at the arms market supply currently outruns demand, so “we should not only look for potential buyers, but also set prices realistically.”

Georgia’s military budget for 2014 is approximately $400 million, which is about half as much as under Saakashvili, prior to the hostilities of five years ago. Georgia does not plan to fight with anyone and only wants to make sure its defense capabilities are sufficient. Therefore, new priorities have been identified – anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems.

Before the war with Russia, Georgia procured mainly offensive weaponry, mostly from Ukraine.

Recently, a former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, said that if Saakashvili did not acquire self-propelled artillery, heavy armor, or ground attack aircraft, there would have been no temptation to test them in action in South Ossetia.

In the Georgian Defense Ministry they say that now that the era of Saakashvili is over, it will be easier to discuss the necessary military procurement abroad.

After August 2008, many longtime partners of Tbilisi refused to sell weapons, equipment, and ammunition to Georgia. For example, Israel, that in the mid 2000s delivered about 40 Hermes‑450 drones, stopped further deliveries, acting upon the recommendation of Russia. The controversial WikiLeaks website later reported that the Israelis even passed to Russians the codes for the drones intended for Georgia, allegedly in exchange for Moscow’s refusal to sell arms to enemies of the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, late last week the Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania had talks in Israel with his counterpart, Moshe Ya’alon. The results would suggest the resumption of cooperation.

The Georgian Defense Ministry told Izvestia that over this month the military of the two countries would develop a specific plan aimed at “improving the efficiency of Georgia’s defense and developing cooperation in the military industry.”

Also this week, American and Georgian working groups, set up under the Charter on Cooperation signed a few years ago, will discuss military issues in Washington. The Georgian delegation is headed by the Deputy Foreign Minister David Zalkaniani.

George Tavdgiridze, a former director of the National Defence Academy, believes that during the negotiations with the Americans, Georgia should raise the issue of supplying “Stinger” MANPADs. The expert noted that the Georgian army needs “several hundred such systems,” and based on bilateral agreements the U.S. could sell them to Georgia at a low price.

However, not all analysts believe that ​​selling Soviet and Russian military equipment abroad makes sense. Vakhtang Maisaya, the Director of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Integration of Georgia, and an expert of the International Working Group on Terrorism operating under the auspices of NATO, told Izvestia that “it will be extremely difficult to enter the markets of third countries where other suppliers have dominated for a long time, offering old military equipment.”

The expert believes that it is necessary, having calculated everything carefully, to either recycle the equipment on-site or to repair it using [Georgia’s] own capacity in this area.