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Georgia Navy

At least 10 warships had been stationed at the Soviet Black Sea naval base of Poti at the end of the Soviet era in 1991, but were appropriated by Russia afterward. Without a navy, Georgia had to face the embarrassment of relying upon Russian naval forces for protecting its territorial waters. Russia, in turn, conveniently used Georgia's naval weakness to reinforce its control over Georgia's maritime borders and maintain tight access over which vessels come and go from Georgian ports.

The Naval branch of the Georgian Armed Forces was established in 1991. The Captain Aleksander Javakhishvili (also written Dzhavakhishvili) was the first Chief of Naval Forces. Captain Jumber Gabunia was the head of Naval Forces' Brigade established in Poti, in 1992. A newly created marine unit was involved in the subsequent war to restore territorial integrity of Georgia. The ship "Gantiadi" commanded by experienced sailor Shuqri Kopaliani performed the first sea battle near Tamishi on 7 July 1993. This day entered in the history as the day of Naval Forces' establishment.

In the 1990s Tbilisi was seriously pursuing the creation of a modern naval defense force that would be capable of protecting Georgia's maritime borders, since Georgia inherited virtually no vessels from Russia that previously belonged to the Soviet Black Sea fleet. As of 1996 Georgia had laid claim to at least 25 ships.

Russia sought to capitalize on this advantage by limiting the encroachment of Turkish fishing vessels in Georgian territorial waters. In March 1996 Moscow used its naval capabilities to send a powerful signal to Ankara when Russian warships attacked Turkish fishing vessels in Georgian waters. This incident nearly sparked a major regional conflict with Turkey that greatly embarrassed Georgian officials. To add insult to injury, Russian border forces later seized a Ukrainian vessel and detained its crew without informing the Georgian government.

As a result of these incidents Georgia embarked on a major effort to bolster its naval forces in an effort to ensure its maritime security. These episodes had underscored Georgia's inability to protect its own maritime border and prompted the United States, Great Britain, Turkey, and Ukraine to accelerate and expand their assistance program to the fledgling Georgian navy.

Ukraine immediately responded to Georgia's appeal for naval assistance by initiating a training program for Georgian naval officers at the Ukrainian naval academy in Sevastopol. Ukraine naval officers noted a major aim of the program was to develop a Ukrainian-Georgian naval partnership in the Black Sea. Ukraine in 1996 endorsed Georgia's claim to a share of the Black Sea Fleet. President Eduard Shevardnadze described that share as "symbolic," a statement reflecting Tbilisi's plan to develop no more than a coastal guard force, to be subordinated to the border troops' command, rather than acting as a navy in its own right.

Rear-Adm. Aleksandr Dzhavakhishvili resigned in November 2006 as commander of the Georgian Navy because of "a serious disagreement" with the country's defense minister. The 64-year-old admiral had been the only chief of independent Georgia's Navy. Previously he had served in the Soviet navy as a submariner in the Pacific Fleet, rising to the rank of rear admiral.

By 1997 Georgia received a first coastal patrol ship from Ukraine, which had completed the training of that ship's Georgian crew. Captain of the First Rank Otar Chkhartshvili, who had served on a Russian guided-missile cruiser, was appointed the new commander of the Georgian navy.

Great Britain responded to Georgia's naval concerns by dispatching a group of naval officers to Georgia in late 1997 where the Royal Navy unveiled a program of naval assistance. This program included naval training for Georgian officers in the United Kingdom and the transfer of several small-scale naval vessels from the Royal Navy to Georgia. During that visit British Assistant Defense Secretary Roger Jackling announced in Tbilisi that Great Britain would donate two coast guard cutters to Georgia. Jackling also announced that in early 1998 the Royal Navy would accept the first group of Georgian naval officers for training in the United Kingdom.

Ironically, after Jackling's visit to Tbilisi, Russian officials had a change of heart in their refusal to assist Georgia. Colonel-General Sergei Mayev, the head of the Russian Defense Ministry's Main Armament Directorate, traveled to Georgia to discuss the possibility of turning over to Tbilisi several naval vessels from the former Soviet Black Sea fleet. Prior to this announcement, Russian Ministry of Defense officials consistently had refused to do this.

On 14 October 1997, the group met with Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, who was reported to have reminded the Russian delegation that Georgia had been totally ignored when the Black Sea fleet was divided. Shevardnadze noted that nearly 80 percent of the Soviet military equipment once stationed in the republic had been repatriated to Russia. After his meetings with Shevardnadze, General Mayev announced that Russia was prepared to transfer to the Georgian Navy "a certain number of our warships" once President Boris Yeltsin had approved the decision. General Mayev failed to specify the exact quantity or particular type of vessels to be transferred, but other sources in Tbilisi said that four ships would be handed over. A Russian member of the delegation indicated that Moscow was prepared to assist Georgia in building up both its navy and air force.

The United States, Ukraine, and Turkey also responded to Georgia's naval concerns by donating several old coast guard vessels to its fledgling navy. Naval assistance from NATO had been pivotal for Georgia in the formation of its coastal defense forces. Assistance from Turkey, the United States, and Great Britain, greatly helped Georgia establish a modern naval force.

The Georgian Government published a document concerning their Defense Policy Priorities for 2005-2006, in which they outlined 4 items they hoped to investigate in that timeframe. These included:

  • 1. Creat a more capable fleet equipped with single type (class) of multiple purpose combat vessels. This process would include retiring old vessels and repairing existing ones.
  • 2. Optimize the Force Management system and the structure of the Navy.
  • 3. Build living facilities according to NATO standards by renovating the main naval base and other naval infrastructure.
  • 4. Fully man and train the Navy management. This included sea operations main headquarters and other subordinate units.

Georgian Naval Forces celebrated their 16th anniversary on 7 July 2007. A solemn ceremony to mark the Georgian Navy Day was held in Poti. Chief of Joint Staff of Georgian Armed Forces, Brigade General Zaza Gogava and other high level officials of Georgian Armed Forces congratulated the professional day to military personnel of the Naval Forces. Father Grigol from Poti and Khoni Eparchy blessed the representatives of Navy Forces.

After raising flags and performing the state anthem Brigade General Zaza Gogava addressed the personnel of the Georgian Navy: "I want to thank the Navy Commander Captain Beso Shengelia and Navy personnel for their great efforts. A person should be filled with hope to reach such progress in these conditions. I give my word, and word of Defence Minister that revival of the Georgian Navy will start this year and this process will continue until Georgia will have the elite Naval Forces. I want to remember those soldiers who sacrifice their lives during Abkhazian conflict. I want to wish you honorable duty, to keep in our hearts their memories, their names and the pain which our Georgian Navy Day country underwent several years ago. Only the devoted service of officers, warrant officers and soldiers will relief this pain."

In this anniversary, representatives of the Georgian Navy sailed to the open sea to commemorate the deceased sailors and Chief of Joint Staff let down the wreath in the water in their honor.

During the Georgia-Russian conflict of August 2008, at least one of Georgia's naval vessels, believed to have been the patrol boat Tblisi, was sunk by Russian naval vessels in the Black Sea. Russian forces were also said to have attack Poti from the air and on the ground with various reports of damage to naval vessels at dock and to the port facilities.

In 2009 Georgia created a Maritime Defense Force with the merging of Navy and Coast Guard assets. According to the law of Georgia on “Amendments conducted in the Law of Georgia on Defence of Georgia” of December 19, 2008, the structural changes have been made in the MIA Border Police of Georgia and Armed Forces of Georgia. Over these structural changes the GBP Coast Guard Department and Navy of the MOD have been merged, thus forming united naval force – the Coast Guard Department of the Border Police of Georgia. The CG discharges maritime-defence and law-enforcement tasks and duties.

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