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8 Aug, 2010 06:21

Georgia expands military budget amid rising paranoia

While the Georgian people have set their minds on peace, their leadership is more concerned with war and has spent over thirty times more on its military budget than economic development.

President Mikhail Saakashvili is up in arms over his country’s defense capabilities.

“Each village should be able to defend itself. There should be small trained units in each village and each settlement, which have a certain number of arms, so that everyone can defend their own land,” Saakashvili said at the end of July.

Ever since the 2008 war in South Ossetia, the Georgian president appears to hold the belief that Russia is his country’s top enemy, claiming that Moscow still plans to attack Georgia and calling for full-scale militarization.

If the enemy force decides to advance from the ethnically cleansed territories, each and every square meter of Georgian land should burn beneath them,” Saakashvili said. “That’s the task.”

The president's rhetoric has raised a number of concerns, not only in South Ossetia and the other former Georgian republic of Abkhazia, but even in Georgia itself.

Ucha Nanuashvili, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization The Human Rights Information and Documentation Centre, sees it as an attempt by the Georgian president to hold on to his authority, which has been severely shaken following the conflict of 2008.

We expect that this campaign will be used to launch some kind of new incident, some new war with breakaway regions,” Nanuashvili suggested. “[Saakashvili] needs to keep his power, to survive, and war is the main way to do it. I think that’s the main reason.”

Writer and political activist Irakli Kakabadze also thinks that nationwide militarization should certainly not be Georgia’s top priority as it could have disastrous effects.

This could lead to another war,” Kakabadze said. “This cannot be good for Georgia. [Saakashvili] needs to stop putting investment into militarization and start putting the money into education, civil society, and economic growth; it’s an everyday process.”

Militarization comes at a hefty price of just over $400 million. While the Georgian government continues to declaim about raising the country from the economic crisis, this year it allocated just $12 million for economic development.

Many analysts claim Georgia mainly survives on loans from the West, such as a recently approved $50 million loan from the World Bank. Some fear this money will go towards helping Tbilisi prepare for another war.

“What happens when the World Bank adds to those revenues, the money is rearranged and that allows you to spend, to redirect money which was normally tagged to health and education, you redirect it to military expenditure, and then you use the World Bank money to finance health and education. That is the way it works,” said Michel Chussodovsky, Director of the Center for Research on Globalization.

With his country deeply in debt, and the people hoping for stability in their lifetime, the Georgian president has a tough task on his hands. However, it appears for now that Mikhail Saakashvili is more concerned with addressing a perceived military threat and hyping up the danger.