A long-lasting flaw of Czech export gains sensible dimensions
The decree put together by the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, according to which the Russian cabinet is obliged to introduce economic sanctions against countries arming Georgia, is mainly aimed at the Czech Republic. Our country has been among the main suppliers of military material for the Georgian army for years. There used to be times when it wasn’t perceived as kosher, but now it evokes a certain patriotic pride: We are helping a country that is trying to preserve its independence from the Russian ogre. However, the Czech weapon trade is dependent on Russian components, and so there is a more than one small risk. Czech arms lobbyists will get scared enough to push through the closure of the Georgian business at a time when the issue becomes a national interest and solidarity of a highly strategic importance.
According to the opinion of the EU, the US and other countries, except for Russia and Nicaragua, Abkhazia is still part of Georgian territory. Stationing Russian military bases there is therefore a Kremlin provocation. Nevertheless, the reaction of the rest of world is next to zero, and diplomats are also keep quiet about Medvedev’s decree.
Politicians are simply being careful. London International Institute for Strategic Studies has pointed out recently, that a successful conclusion of Afghan mission is currently NATO’s key role. And for that NATO needs Russia and the northern road for supplies, according to a study. That does not look good for Georgia. Since the significance of the Russian-Georgian conflict for global security was very early covered by the global economic crisis, the US presidential elections and more recently by the war in Gaza. The initial pull of President Sarkozy to solve the problem in Moscow and Tbilisi has disappeared completely. And his successor leading the EU, Mirek Topolánek, writes in his text for Respekt magazine: “We had to face the burden of the two Gs, Gas and the Gaza.” He has left out the third G – Georgia. In the meantime, the Caucasus problem has been equally urgent for both Europe and NATO – which Georgia wants to join – like it was last summer when Russia attacked that country and carved out part of its territory.
Czech diplomats have so far not reacted to Medvedev’s decree; they say they are analysing it. And there are, indeed, things to analyse. The termination of our arms supplies into Georgia represents a real threat, and we might become witnesses of a somewhat sad paradox. We increased our arms exports into this country at the beginning of the millenium when the supplies were criticised by the allies. Today, when the sale of arms to this country is almost called for, we find ourselves under the threat of trade stopping because of the Kremlin menace. How is that possible?
Georgia has always officially showed signs of leaning towards the US and NATO ever since its independence at the beginning of the 1990s. Nevertheless, five years ago it still represented a risky area for arms recipients. It did not figure on any official list of embargoed countries but the secret services and Amnesty International warned that the weapons from Tbilisi are being re-exported into banned countries such as Eritrea and Somalia. Back then, the Czech Republic sold Georgia surplus weapons from its arsenal, from ammunition to tanks through the private company Thomas CZ (the state cannot trade in weapons in the Czech Republic), and the trade’s supervision was very poor. Nobody checked properly what happened with the guns after they arrived in Georgia.
Arms producers: Export to Georgia threatens our interest. After Mikheil Saakashvili’s victory in the presidential elections, Georgia became a standard country for military material supplies. And ever since last year’s Russian attack, modern equipment of the Georgian army has become a supported need – though so far only quietly – by both Brussels’ headquarters and NATO.
Who else if not us
Local arms manufacturers were fast to react to the Medvedev decree since the Russian sanctions might pose a great problem to them. Czech businessmen trading in “speciality goods” mostly sell older weapons of Soviet or Russian origin. They mostly come from the Czech military surplus. And since it often comprises Russian components, the replacement parts can only be bought in Russia. If Moscow stops supply of the replacement parts, on the basis of the Medvedev decree, a number of local companies will have nothing, and probably also no one, to deal with.
Jiří Hynek, head of the Defense and Security Industry Association said it clearly: “What the Russian presidential decree means for us is that if one company legally exports something to Georgia, it might endanger the other companies, which will be unable to trade with Russia.” This can be read as a message to the company that practically has a monopoly as weapons exporter to Georgia – Thomas CZ.
Hope lies in the fact that, in the end, it is the politicians who make decisions when it comes to the arms industry. Let’s believe that the Czech Republic will not turn into a country that will support Georgian interests verbally but will quietly desert the line of supplying the country’s army – even though that has only a symbolical meaning compared to the Russian military force. Despite Prime Minister Topolánek’s omission of Georgia [in his Respekt op-ed], our approach to Georgia is rather exemplary. We belong among the main Tbilisi supporters in the EU, and we cooperate with the US navy, which is training the Georgian army. Medvedev’s decree should not change anything about that.