Georgia officially recognizes Russia’s soft power as a major threat
Under the Georgian Defense Ministry’s Strategic Defense Review, Russia and its ‘creeping occupation’ represent a major threat to Georgia. As is stated in the document, there is a risk of Russian soft power and hybrid warfare.
The document is designed for 2017-2020 and it makes just a passing mention of terrorism.
The Strategic Defense Review (SDR) is one of those strategies developed at the national level. The SDR holds an important place in terms of the country’s defense policy regarding long-term planning based on the National Security Concept, Threat Assessment Document and National Defense Strategy. The document reflects not only the Defense Ministry’s opinions, but also the Government’s vision, in general.
This voluminous document (46 pages, 6 main chapters) offers both a review of the existing challenges and risk assessment, as well as recommendations.
Russia’s creeping occupation – a major threat
The document focuses on military threats coming from the Russian Federation.
In particular, the main security challenges for Georgia are the occupied regions and the so-called ‘creeping occupation’.
The most recent precedent of the ‘creeping occupation’ was reported on 28 April: Russian border guards moved the occupation borderline 300m deeper into Khurcha village, Zugdidi district, which is neighboring Nabakevi village, Gali district. As a result, about a 2ha. arable land area fell within the occupied territory. Such cases frequently happen on the administrative border of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Although the new Strategy underlines the Kremlin’s threat of military aggression and occupation, there is no mention of possible scenarios of anti-occupation and anti-annexation strategies that need to be developed to avoid those threats.
Russian soft power
One of the main and important novelties of the Strategic Defense Review is the recognition of Russian soft power and propaganda. This most efficient weapon of the Russian Federation was earlier disregarded by Georgian governmental institutions and it was never reflected in any national-level documents.
Unlike the West, which was taking active measures against the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, Georgia has recognized Russia’s information war and propaganda as a real threat at a political level only this year. (In the USA, Obama’s administration approved the Portman-Murphy Counter-Propaganda bill, which provided for setting up the Information Analysis and Response Center, that would pinpoint the sources of disinformation, analyze data and develop counter-measures. In addition, in March 2015, the European Union set up the EEAS Strategic Communication Task Force, aimed at preventing Russian disinformation).
As is pointed out in the SDR, ‘the Kremlin particularly focuses on strengthening the elements of soft power, so as to weaken public institutions, consolidate pro-Russian civil and political groups and discredit the western foreign policy course.’
On a side note, it’s already the second document adopted by Georgia in this regard. On 13 April, the Georgian government endorsed Communication Strategy on Georgia’s Membership to the EU and NATO for 2017-2020, where Russia’s information war is also recognized as a potential threat.
Hybrid warfare is another threat considered in the Georgian Defense Ministry’s Strategic Defense Review document.
Hybrid war is a hostile party’s action, during which it doesn’t apply a conventional military intervention, but rather a combination of various warfare methods against an opponent, including: covert military operations, subversive actions, cyber-attacks, information war, and support to rebels residing in the opponent’s territory.
Moscow has already ‘successfully’ tested its hybrid warfare arsenal in the war with Ukraine, where it simultaneously applied conventional warfare methods and weapons, as well as resorted to terrorist attacks, criminal acts and cyber-attacks, to achieve its political goals.
Georgia’s Strategic Defense Review document is an attempt to identify, analyze and develop complex mechanisms to counter this power.
It can be said that this strategy is more deliberate and ambitious than the preceding documents, but it also has some visible drawbacks.
The 46-page document actually bypasses the theme of a terrorist threat.
Mildly speaking, it’s rather strange that a country with 200 citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq in ISIS and Al-Nusra’s ranks, with a persisting risk of citizens’ mass radicalization and affiliation with terrorist organizations, disregards the terrorism issue. Especially, as Georgia has been contributing to the global anti-terrorism efforts since 2011. In that very period Georgian troops were actively engaged in the Active Endeavour anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean Sea, that was launched following the 11 September terrorist attack in the USA and ended in November 2016.
The Strategy contains many ambitious plans that are to be implemented by 2020: creation of a strong military reserve, development of a total defense policy, complete rearmament of the armed forces and the disposal of old armaments, and advanced training of military personnel. However, there aren’t enough financial resources for carrying out such revolutionary changes – it will be hard to accomplish the aforesaid with the budget planned for 2020 (the 2017 defense budget amounts to GEL 670 million,whereas the 2020 budget is projected to be GEL 720 million.).
However, it should be noted that serious staff optimization is expected in the Defense Ministry by 2020. The plan is that, by 2020, the percentage rate of the amount spent on staff from the defense budget should be equal to an average rate of the same parameters of NATO countries (56%). Also, under the budget estimates, the armed forces research and development expenses will be considerably reduced. However, it is planned to gradually increase arms procurements.