The spring draft got under way in Georgia this week under new guidelines intended to ensure that the country's armed forces conform as closely as possible to NATO standards -- even though it has little chance of being invited to join the alliance in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, in line with staff cuts announced by Defense Minister Levan Izoria last fall, the ministry has dismissed a total of 2,100 personnel, most of them civilians.
One of Izoria's first moves following his appointment in August 2016 was to reverse the decision by his predecessor, Tina Khidasheli, to abolish conscription into the armed forces as of January 2017, but not other agencies, such as the Special State Protection Service and the Interior Ministry.
Under the new guidelines, the length of military service has been cut from 15 to 12 months. All conscripts, not only those assigned to the army, will undergo three months of "comprehensive" combat training. \
That combat training will continue during the following nine months, during which conscripts will "support the professional army" in its daily duties, including by participating in maneuvers.
Conscripts will be allowed weekends off and will receive "an improved social benefits package."
Izoria has admitted that the primary reason for reversing Khidasheli's abolition of conscription is financial, given that the cost of maintaining a professional force comprising only contract servicemen costs at least twice as much.
Nika Chitadze, who heads the Security and International Relations Research Institute, has predicted that the decision to bring back the draft will trigger a corresponding increase in the number of young men seeking to avoid it. That hypothesis is tenuous, however. An opinion poll conducted in late November by InterpressNews registered 69.5 percent approval.
Financial considerations were similarly behind Izoria's decision to reduce Defense Ministry personnel by some 10 percent. (According to Chief of General Staff Vladimir Chachibaia, salaries and administrative costs account for 67 percent of the ministry's budget.)
Initially, Izoria said the downsizing would affect only civilian personnel and not the armed forces.
He noted that the firing of 10 advisers and deputy defense ministers alone would save almost 390,000 laris ($147,732) annually.
But Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili advocated a different approach, noting that "our Defense Ministry resembles an upside-down triangle, we have far more senior officers than we should have," and that Georgia's Western partners, including NATO, have for the past decade urged that the problem be addressed.
As of January 30, 2,100 Defense Ministry personnel had been dismissed, of whom 1,750 were civilians. Of the military personnel affected, 217 were officers (166 of them colonels) and 123 sergeants. Together they were paid a total of some $2 million in compensation.