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Research Report

Politics from the Barrel of a Gun:: Small Arms Proliferation and Conflict in the Republic of Georgia (1989–2001)

Spyros Demetriou
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2002
Published by: Small Arms Survey
Pages: 70

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. i-ii)
  2. (pp. iii-iii)
  3. (pp. iv-v)
  4. (pp. vi-vi)
  5. (pp. vi-vi)
  6. (pp. vii-vii)
  7. (pp. 1-2)

    Over ten years have elapsed since the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991. Radical transitions from one political system to another are by definition conflict-prone, involving fierce competition between differing visions, fluid political affiliations, social activism, power vacuums, and severe economic crises—if not collapse. In such contexts of instability and uncertainty, the recourse to armed violence— as a form of expression and an instrument of power—is an attractive option. The collapse of the USSR engendered a radical transition culminating in the creation of 15 internationally recognized states. Although for the most part surprisingly peaceful, the transition to independence...

  8. (pp. 3-7)

    Georgia is a small state, home to an ethnically diverse population nestling between the two mountain ranges of the Caucasus. It formally became a constituent Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of the USSR in 1921, following its occupation by Bolshevik forces. As in other Soviet Republics, centralized rule from Moscow was consolidated through time-worn ‘divide and rule’ policies. This was primarily achieved by granting political authority to distinct national groupings within a rigid and hierarchical system of local governance. This system, commonly known as Soviet ‘nationalities policy’, involved the demarcation of territorial administrative units on the basis of ‘titular’ nationalities and...

  9. (pp. 8-21)

    On the basis of information collected on the procurement, availability, and use of weapons by most armed groups in Georgia, a watershed in weapons proliferation dynamics can be identified following August 1991. Before that time, small arms—in particular assault rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled systems—were extremely scarce and expensive, and as a result armed groups were poorly and inconsistently armed. Following August 1991, however, Russian commanders and officers began to freely distribute or sell massive quantities of weapons to all belligerents, drastically increasing both the scale and the types of weapons in circulation. This shift in weapons availability...

  10. (pp. 22-29)

    The chaotic nature of Georgian politics during the transition to independence, not to mention the multitude of actors involved in the various conflicts that ensued, makes analysis of this period complex and difficult. Isolating and analysing the contribution of one factor in particular— in this case small arms proliferation—can therefore only be an imprecise science at best. Nonetheless, as seen above, enough data exists to describe why and how Georgia was flooded with weapons between 1991 and 1993, explaining the disastrous consequences this had on the dynamics of conflict.

    The weapons obtained from Russian military stockpiles—through processes described...

  11. (pp. 29-49)

    As recent studies have shown, the termination of armed conflict does not necessarily entail the end of the dangers posed by widespread small arms availability.59 In Georgia, the immediate post-conflict period (1993–95) was marked by widespread lawlessness and impoverishment, and the inability of state institutions to carry out their basic functions. By 1995, however, the process of political and institutional consolidation initiated by Shevardnadze in late 1993 began to bear fruit. By imprisoning the leaders of the Mkhedrioni and other armed formations, and by undertaking a policy of disarmament, Shevardnadze managed to reduce the influence of warlords in politics....

  12. (pp. 50-51)

    This study has attempted to assess the role of small arms proliferation, availability, and use in Georgia over the past ten years, and to highlight its deleterious consequences for the evolution of the conflicts in the early 1990s and social and political stability and reconstruction in the post-conflict period. The evidence collected, analysed, and interpreted in this respect shows that, unfortunately, Georgia is an excellent laboratory for studying the complex and multi-dimensional impacts of small arms.

    Viewed from the perspective of small arms proliferation, Georgia is an anomaly compared with most other contemporary conflict zones because the vast majority of...

  13. (pp. 52-56)
  14. (pp. 56-60)
  15. (pp. 61-61)