The Embargo That Never Was

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 Despite opposition from Israel and the United States, Russia is determined to sell anti-ship missile systems to Syria. During his visit to the United States in September, Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov declared that Moscow will definitely fulfill its obligations to Syria under the 2007 arms-supply agreement between the two countries.

Serdyukov once again accused the United States and Israel of rearming Georgia. And, once again, the Russian side is trying to block any future supply of arms to Georgia. Moscow maintains that any provision of military assistance to Georgia will adversely affect U.S.-Russia cooperation on issues of strategic importance to the United States. Russia’s thinly veiled threat to Georgia’s allies at the very time Russia continues to supply arms to its own friends smacks of political blackmail.

Russia’s current posture is reminiscent of its coercion of Israel before the August war. Russia had forced Israel to stop selling unmanned aerial vehicles to Georgia under the threat of Moscow supplying Iran and Hezbollah with arms. Israel was left with little choice but to submit to this extortion. Russia, in turn, invaded Georgia soon thereafter.

By supplying arms to Syria, Russia is clearly upsetting the balance of powers in the region. Israel fears that Russian weapons will eventually end up in the hands of Hezbollah, the terrorist organization based in neighboring Lebanon. Meanwhile Georgia has been unable to purchase modern military equipment since the August 2008 war. Relying on information supplied by American and Israeli arms dealers, Jane’s Defence Weekly (JDW) reported at the end of June that arms supplies to Georgia are being blocked by U.S. policy on the one hand, and by pressure from Russia, on the other.

Eurasia.Net.org recently reported that Orion Strategies, an American political lobbying firm, had supplied information that arms requests from Georgia had been denied by four U.S. companies. Two of the U.S. companies declined any comment while the other two companies dismissed as false reports that their sale of arms to Georgia had been blocked by the U.S. State Department.

Russia exerts pressure on other countries as well. According to a 2010 report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Georgia in the past two years has been able to purchase military equipment – armored-fighting vehicles and tanks - from Turkey and Ukraine alone.
The Georgian government has consistently refrained from openly discussing this issue. This past spring, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Philip Gordon insisted that the United States has not imposed an arms embargo on Georgia. For the past two years, however, the United States has not fulfilled any of Georgia’s requests for arms. In this regard, Philip Gordon acknowledged that the United States is trying to reduce tensions after the August war. Georgia needs to become a stable democracy and a successful country. According to Gordon, that means Georgia cannot resolve its problems by military means; it needs to develop in some other way.
For his part, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told Russian media that the United States is providing Georgia with only the military support that is needed in Afghanistan. This support extends to M-4 automatic rifles and Hummers earmarked for Georgian troops serving in Afghanistan. The choice of the M-4 instead of the Kalashnikov is not only a matter of political preference for Georgia. The M-4 is the weapon used by NATO troops in Afghanistan, and Georgian forces must be similarly equipped when fighting next to them. Any country aspiring to join NATO has to comply with the weaponry of NATO member-states, which is why the new NATO members had earlier turned down Russian-manufactured weapons, replacing them with western ones before joining the Alliance.

Georgia needs and has requested equipment to increase its defense capabilities. Those requests have included, for example, long-range-radar, anti-tank and modern-communications systems. In an interview with Newsweek, Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili said: “Leaving Georgia defenseless doesn’t help the situation. Georgia can’t attack Russia, while a defenseless Georgia is a big temptation for Russia to change our government through military means… As part of ongoing security cooperation, we hope that the U.S. will help us with defense-weapons capabilities.”
The Americans have repeatedly indicated that what Georgia needs, first and foremost, is a well developed military doctrine. Georgia also needs a qualified corps of officers to properly use the equipment - whether it is an anti-tank or air-defense system. One thing is clear, and that is that a well-developed military doctrine requires well-equipped and well-trained troops. For that, Georgia will require greater U.S. assistance. Such enhanced assistance might involve an increase in the number of Georgians trained at American military academies.

“Military assistance should not be misconstrued as U.S. endorsement for any Georgian use of force against its separatist regions. Georgia will always be less powerful than Russia, but that is no reason to leave it vulnerable two years after a Russian invasion,” Senator McCain wrote in an article published in The Washington Post.

Georgia is the largest per-capita contributor to the Afghan mission. The country also has been involved in other international operations. It has opened its territory for NATO troops to transport their cargo. Moreover, Georgia is of great importance to the energy security of U.S. allies in Europe. Against this backdrop, curtailment of arms for the defense of Georgia is, in the words of Jamestown Foundation Analyst Vladimir Socor, wrong. Socor describes U.S. policy on defense assistance to Georgia ironically: “Neither yes or no, perhaps sometimes.”

As Moscow interprets the restart policy, the United States should respect Kremlin’s interests in the post-Soviet space. At the same time, however, Georgia is America’s close ally, an ally that has successfully distanced itself from Soviet values and lifestyle. Georgia therefore presents an illustrative example for Russia. Vladimir Socor sees the issue of Georgia also as a test for the United States. Socor believes that Russia is trying effectively to veto not only the accession to NATO of any country that falls within its sphere of interests, but also to weaken ties between any such country and Washington. The Kremlin wants to see America lose its role in ensuring regional security so that Russia can fill the void left behind.

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