On June 17 the cooks of Vaziani military base will be serving the dinner for non-Russian soldiers for the first time. The base, which is located very near to Tbilisi, was officially opened on June 4th and is fully ready to host military exercise Cooperative Best Effort – 2002 in which servicemen of NATO member states and partner countries will participate.
The Russian units vacated Vaziani base on June 1, 2001, in accordance with 1999 Istanbul Agreement. Turkey undertook restoration works of the base. USD 1,5 million were spent for modernization and equipment purposes. Georgian Defense Ministry contributed 500,000 Lari (approximately USD 250,000) from its limited budget.
“One had to have really great imagination to see fully operational facility in place of those ruins that we’ve acquired,” said Defense Minister David Tevzadze at the opening ceremony and added, that the only interest of the Turkish side in assisting Georgian military is in having Georgia as a strong and self-reliant neighbor.
The base can house up to 2000 servicemen. Chief of General Staff Lieutenant-General John Pirtskhalaishvili says that the base is completely ready to host international exercises.
However, the barracks that stand in the entrance still remind of the Russian military base, with walls cracked and window glasses broken.
But behind these barracks is an infrastructure of highest international standards: canteen with glassed roof and fountain, kitchen, hospital with modern equipment, showers and laundry rooms. This modern style base invoked sentiment of celebration in Georgian high-ranking authorities. “Why should I be dissatisfied? Do we have anything better then this?” Davit Tevzadze asked the reporters.
At the opening ceremony of the Vaziani Base, Georgian Defense Minister awarded Chief of the Department of Logistics of the Turkish General Staff General-Lieutenant Unal Onsipahioglu with Jubilee Medal of the Georgian Armed Forces for great contribution in strengthening of traditional friendly relations between the two Defense Ministries and building of the Georgian Army.
“When I came here, nobody believed that we would make anything good out of this base. Military cooperation between us will continue in the future too. Georgia is very important for Turkey’s stability,” General-Lieutenant Unal Onsipahioglu told the Civil Georgia.
Such cooperation is not being limited only to base reconstruction. The Turkish side already provided Georgian Armed Forces with 2 UH-1H helicopters, 3 naval vessels and spent 28 million USD in total for assistance in development. The Turkish side already trained 1434 Georgian servicemen, while 139 soldiers are still undergoing training in Turkey.
General-Lieutenant Unal Onsifahioglu also outlined another important component of cooperation, which is sharing of experience acquired in NATO and the UN with Georgia. “Assistance to the Georgian Armed Forces is not limited to bilateral cooperation only. Caucasus Working team, which includes US representatives as well, is also engaged in the activity,” he said.
Opening of the Vaziani Base became second major event in development of the Georgian Army in the last month. “Ten days ago we attended a different ceremony, dedicated to Train-and-Equip program. In ten days we will gather here to celebrate opening of the Cooperative Best Effort international exercises. But today we are here to receive a facility, which comes with standards that we’ve been talking about for all this time,” said David Tevzadze at the opening ceremony.
Military exercises of the NATO states and partner countries will be carried out for second time in Georgia. First exercise was organized in 2001 in Poti. It primarily included exercises of naval and airborne units. From June 17 to 27 soldiers of 14 NATO member states and partner countries will undergo terrain exercises together with 4 Georgian squadrons. The next exercises are scheduled for autumn.
Despite improving Russia-NATO partnership, the Russian soldiers will not be among the guests of the Vaziani base on June 17. As Russian military attaché to Georgia Colonel Valery Lastovsky told to Civil Georgia, Russia has “not a negative, but neutral” attitude to these exercises.
By Salome Jashi, Civil Georgia