09TBILISI1120, GEORGIA: DEFENSE MINISTER SIKHARULIDIZE MEETS A/S

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1120 2009-06-18 08:58 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO1981
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1120/01 1690858
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 180858Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1753
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING IMMEDIATE 0244
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK IMMEDIATE 4864

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001120 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/18/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS RS GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: DEFENSE MINISTER SIKHARULIDIZE MEETS A/S 
GORDON 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary.  On June 10, Defense Minister Sikharulidze 
and EUR Assistant Secretary Gordon discussed the state of the 
Georgian military, progress on reform, NATO prospects, 
bilateral cooperation, the Geneva process, and UNOMIG 
negotiations.  Sikharulidze made clear that Russia poses a 
bigger threat than ever, with an ever-expanding military 
presence in the regions, and Georgia was orienting its 
restructuring efforts to defend against that threat, even 
while downsizing.  He sought more clarity on the way forward 
for NATO membership and hoped for more bilateral cooperation 
with NATO allies, explaining that other countries would look 
to the U.S. as a trendsetter in this regard.  A/S Gordon 
expressed strong support for Georgia's military reform 
efforts and NATO aspirations, noting that every country has 
the right to defend itself, and welcomed Georgia's 
willingness to contribute to the effort in Afghanistan.  End 
summary. 
 
STATE OF THE MILITARY AND REFORM 
 
2. (C) Minister Sikharulidze told A/S Gordon about the 
consolidation of the Russian military presence in Abkhazia 
and South Ossetia.  Although the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) 
had signed MOUs with the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of 
Internal Affairs to limit military presence near the 
boundaries, those documents only covered the areas outside 
the disputed regions; no mechanism existed to control the 
Russian buildup.  He noted the presence of roughly 8,000 
Russian troops, 1,500-1,800 border guards, and a steadily 
increasing military infrastructure including stockpiles of 
equipment and supply lines, explaining that Russia sought to 
decrease the time it would take to change from a defensive to 
an offensive posture.  Sikharulidze also noted that Georgia 
is seeing patterns of behavior on the part of the Russians 
similar to those of last year, such as significant military 
exercises.  He noted talk in the media about "unfinished 
business," and said that Russia would only understand clear 
and explicit messages about its activities.  He professed a 
lack of understanding in the decision making process inside 
Russia, with considerable room for misunderstanding, and said 
those clear messages were therefore critical to ensure Russia 
did not undertake anything rash. 
 
3. (C) Sikharulidze also outlined Georgia's defense 
priorities, which involve restructuring the military while 
maintaining readiness in the face of the Russian threat.  The 
restructuring effort focuses on personnel management, 
resource management, training, and doctrine development, 
combined with improvements in command-and-control, anti-tank 
and air defense capabilities.  The August war taught Georgia 
a number of lessons, including the need for better 
command-and-control and intelligence analysis.  At the same 
time, Sikharulidze said that the Ministry faced an additional 
seven percent reduction in its budget, and the military was 
planning a gradual reduction in its forces, down to an 
authorized force level of less than 31,000 troops.  (Note: 
The following day, post learned that the Minister revised 
this figure downward even further, to less than 30,000.  End 
note.)  He explained that the government had not yet made 
this information public, because it did not want the decision 
to be interpreted the wrong way politically.  A/S Gordon 
Qto be interpreted the wrong way politically.  A/S Gordon 
acknowledged that, while there is clearly no military 
solution to the current conflicts, every country has the 
right to self-defense.  He welcomed Georgia's willingness to 
contribute to the effort in Afghanistan, which is a priority 
for President Obama, and noted the involvement would be good 
for bilateral cooperation in general. 
 
NATO AND BILATERAL COOPERATION 
 
4. (C) A/S Gordon said that Georgia's NATO aspirations are in 
a pretty good place, with the NATO-Georgia Council in place 
and Annual National Plan on track.  Sikharulidze acknowledged 
that different paths were in principle possible to accede to 
NATO, but suggested it would be helpful for all allies to be 
in consensus on this point; he noted that France and Germany 
seemed still to believe that a Membership Action Plan was 
required.  Although Gordon admitted that there was still work 
to do among the allies in reaching a common understanding on 
Georgia's path to membership, he reaffirmed that Georgia 
would join when three conditions were met: when Georgia was 
ready, when Georgia had something to offer the alliance, and 
when there is a consensus among members states that the time 
was right. 
 
5. (C) The Minister expressed interest in enhanced 
 
TBILISI 00001120  002 OF 002 
 
 
cooperation with NATO allies on a bilateral basis, explaining 
that NATO itself can help on certain technica
l elements, but 
direct bilateral engagement is crucial.  He said that in 
general bilateral relationships were in good shape, although 
in one case -- the Netherlands -- programs had ended after 
the August war.  Noting that Georgia is cooperating with 
France to send Georgian forces with a French unit to 
Afghanistan, Sikharulidze said Georgia might approach the 
U.S. for assistance with transportation.  Most importantly, 
however, Sikharulidze said that all other partners look to 
the United States as a trendsetter.  He explained that the 
Russian factor plays a tremendous role, with countries not 
wanting to jeopardize their relationship with Russia; he said 
the Dutch even admitted that their decision to halt programs 
stemmed in large part from this concern.  A/S Gordon noted 
that only a few countries had backed out of the recent PfP 
exercises.  Sikharulidze confirmed this and pointed out that 
another exercise was planned for the fall of 2009; he hoped 
such exercises would become routine.  Gordon said the United 
States remained committed to the fall exercise, which would 
be oriented toward the Afghanistan mission.  Sikharulidze 
added he would also like to see exercises dedicated to 
homeland defense, which is the main function of the Ministry, 
and reiterated that the United States would once again set 
the trend for such cooperation. 
 
6. (C) The Ambassador noted that the United States has been 
actively involved in assisting the Georgian military in its 
training efforts, including in particular accepting several 
Georgian students for a full course of study at the service 
academies.  A/S Gordon asked how else the U.S. could help, 
and the Minister explained that any assistance on the 
academic side would be useful.  Georgia would focus on the 
infrastructure necessary to improve training, such as 
buildings, but help in such areas as curriculum development 
would be welcome.  The Ambassador noted that additional IMET 
funds could help in this regard. 
 
POLITICAL ISSUES 
 
7. (C) Regarding the Geneva process, Sikharulidze explained 
that, although it has not yet produced any serious results, 
it offers a better format for talks than any that previously 
existed, because it makes clear that Russia is a party to the 
conflict.  He suggested that the process deserves some more 
time, although there may eventually come a point when it no 
longer makes sense to cntinue.  He noted that Russia is 
trying to undermine the format by elevating the breakaway 
territories to an equal footing with the full participants, 
but would probably like to put an end to the process. 
Regarding UNOMIG, Sikharulidze admitted that the mission is 
important, but described it as weak.  He said it would not be 
worth sacrificing the principle of territorial integrity for 
the sake of keeping it. 
 
8.  (U) A/S Gordon did not have an opportunity to clear this 
cable before he departed Tbilisi. 
TEFFT

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