Principles and Solidarity: Arms Control and Threat Reduction in Georgia

By Vasil (Dato) Sikharulidze

April 4, 2024

IMAGE: A convoy of Russian troops makes its way through the mountains in the direction of Tskhinvali near the town of Alagir on August 16, 2008.


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Vasil (Dato) Sikharulidze is a former Georgian Ambassador to the US and former Minister of Defense. His story offers perspectives on the implementation of conventional arms control and biological threat reduction.



VASIL (DATO) SIKHARULIDZE: Arms control in general is important but we should not sacrifice the real security interest just for the form of arms control. Process is important, but objective is much more important. In the mid-nineties I shifted from my medical career to the civil service career. Many people of my generation moved from different fields to the government field because we regained our independence in 1991.

Russians entered Georgia in 1921 in violation of Georgian Russian agreement. The Red Army forcefully annexed it into the Soviet Union and since then they were here. But in 1991, Soviet Union broke apart and then we regained our independence. It’s difficult time for Georgia difficult time for different reasons. Last 32 years is the constant struggle for good governance and independence and Georgian statehood marked with Russian attempts to undermine the Georgian state.

As a remnant of the Soviet Union there were four Russian military bases in Georgia. They were not that strong. They had more political purpose. They were centers of influence centers to project Russian hybrid warfare on Georgia. So that’s why, I mean it was vital for Georgian statehood and for Georgian government to get rid of them. There were many different venues where we were bringing up this issue and one of this was the OSCE and there was the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement.

One of the main principles is that any deployment on the other country’s territory requires open consent of the receiving countries. 1999, when the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement was negotiated, the Georgian side brought up this issue because it is the violation of not only the provisions but also the spirit of this agreement to have Russian bases on Georgian territory without Georgia wanting it. It started in ’99 and it went all the way until final agreement was reached in 2005. The last stage I remember vividly, 2004, 2005 when I was the Deputy Minister of Defense and negotiating this saying that the two military bases should be withdrawn immediately.

Of course, there’s very strong position of Georgian side but also the pressure, international pressure because it was violating very principle of OSCE. Arms control is important if it follows the principles. So what we’ve been taught by the CFE is that the main principle is that no one should station its forces on other country’s territory without the consent of receiving parties. And these principles should not be never should be sacrificed to achieve some kind of technical agreement. Arms control is only a mechanism, they have to be serving the principles not other way around.

It was a tough process in general, tough process because sometimes it was dynamic, sometimes it was frozen sometimes it was going forward, but not really because the Russians are really masters of doing this without doing it, you know. They never have fully, fully withdrew from from Georgia. But at least three other bases have been withdrawn. And it was first time since 1921 when we got them finally kicked out. And I think that it went well just because our partners believed more in principles rather than in just the forms and the schemes.

Free countries are much more powerful when there is the solidarity between them. I think it was 2004, 2005 when a DOD associated team from US went to a few labs. That was part of the Combined Threat Reduction in this DTRA initiative. The real serious concern was pathogenic microbes getting out either by incident or by terrorist attacks.

It was alarming for. Georgian officials as well as our American friends. And then everyone else. Findings were that because of the lack of funding and the backwardness in technologies and poor equipment and the poor security and safety these all establishments had the serious problems. The general idea was that first to improve safety and security.

Secondly, to establish the conditions for Georgian scientists and doctors that are working in these labs. The third was to improve infrastructure and to make sure that the pathologic microbes are stored properly. So this grand idea was to establish one lab where representatives of all those institutions that are dealing with the pathogenic microbes can go there can enjoy better conditions for their work better security, safety, better equipment but also it was one of those objectives of the Defense Threat.

Reduction Initiative one way or another, integrate scientists into the international scientific community. I remember signing the first financial agreement with DOD in presence of Senator Lugar. Then it was the groundbreaking ceremony and then the grand opening. This lab is really impressive. It’s great place for. Georgian scientists to work great ground to engage with their counterparts in different countries and great capability to exercise this biosafety in Georgia.

I think everyone benefited. It was in our Western partners’ interest and I think that it was a good thing that has been done within the scope of this threat reduction initiative. Is a good lesson for everyone. If you are partnering good then they’ll get the better capabilities because the lab now we got after all this is that unique capabilities that Georgia has.

Solidarity and principles make a free world stronger and when solidarity disappears, and then and if countries will try to pursue their lines and their security alone that gives upper hand to authoritarian guys and authoritarian tyrants. Now it’s important for the free world to keep together bringing longstanding peace on the European continent.

I think it’s going to be my time the accomplishment of the project of Europe whole, free and at peace.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Stanley Center for Peace and Security or any other agency, institution, or partner.



Vasil (Dato) Sikharulidze
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute's Eurasia Program

Ambassador Vasil (Dato) Sikharulidze is a Senior Fellow in FPRI’s Eurasia Program. He is a former Georgian Ambassador to the US and former Minister of Defense. He is a board member of the Atlantic Council of Georgia. Additionally, he is a professor at Webster University and a lecturer at Tbilisi Open University and Ilia University, Tbilisi. Ambassador Sikharulidze served as a NATO Fellow from 2001-2003 and a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Sikharulidze is a co-author of a number of research publications on security policy, strategic connectivity, security sector reform, and strategic communications. Vasil holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University and MD in Psychiatry from Tbilisi State Medical University. He has 17 years of Public Service experience and held high-ranking positions, including those of the Minister of Defense of Georgia (December 2008 – August 2009); Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia to the United States, Canada, and Mexico (Washington, D.C., US) (Dec 2005- Dec 2008); Deputy Minister of Defense, Undersecretary of the National Security Council of Georgia, Deputy Head of Georgian Mission to NATO and Head of NATO Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.

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