Georgia Will Not Participate in “Defender 23” Military Exercise

The multinational exercise “Defender 23” began on April 22 and is scheduled to continue until June 23. Over 7,800 US service members and 15,000 troops from more than 20 Allied and partner nations are participating in the exercise. Georgia is not among the participants. The US has conducted “Defender Europe” exercises for the last four years, with Georgia’s participation limited to only 2021.

What is “Defender 23”?

Defender 23” is a US European Command directed multi-national, joint exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between US and NATO Allies and partners. The US Army Europe and Africa is spearheading the exercise, which has been in the planning stages since 2021. Its main objective is to showcase the American military’s capability to swiftly deploy combat-ready troops and equipment, thus reassuring allies and deterring potential aggressors in Europe while protecting the continent from potential attacks. Additionally, the exercise highlights the commitment of European nations to boost the capacity, scale, and interoperability of their own armed forces.

Georgia’s Participation in “Defender 23”

The question of whether Georgia will participate in the exercise activities has sparked debates. The Ministry of Defense of Georgia has yet to provide a definitive answer on the matter. When asked by a journalist on April 30, the Minister of Defense, Juansher Burchuladze, commented that Georgia is taking part in 20 international training exercises this year, but some exercises might be missed, because they come with additional costs and logistical challenges, so this should not be perceived as a problem. He noted: “The record number of our exercises was last year when we held 6 international exercises in Georgia. Our participation abroad is also at a record high,” – adding that there is no reason to speculate on this matter.

As per the US Department of Defense website, Georgia was initially listed as a participant in the exercise, but the list was later removed from the official site. In response to the change, the press team commented: “This story has been edited for clarity from previous versions. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.” reached out to Eliza Cantrell, a Public Affairs Specialist on the US Army Europe and Africa Public Affairs team. According to Cantrell’s response:

“At this time, Georgia is not participating in Defender 23. Having said that, the planning of military exercises are dynamic and, often, fluid events, therefore the participating nations may change for any number of reasons with little or short notice. Questions about why nations choose not to participate—and whether they plan to participate in future exercises—should be addressed to those nations’ defense departments”.

Georgia’s past participation in “Defender Europe”

The military exercise “Defender-Europe” was first conducted in 2020. It was designed to be “the largest deployment of troops from the United States to Europe in more than 25 years”.

The military exercise “Defender-Europe” officially became an annual event in 2021, with “Defender-Europe 21” having the largest participation of US partners and Allied states to date. The list of participants now included Georgia, which was participating in exercise activities along with 25 other countries. Some had speculated that the exercise was NATO’s preparation for war against Russia, prompting “EU vs. Disinfo” to publish a summary of disinformation and clarify that the Kremlin-style disinformation dissemination about the exercise is inaccurate. Firstly, the exercise was led by the US, not NATO. Secondly, the objective was to build strategic and operational readiness and interoperability between the US, NATO Allies, and partners.

Altogether 12 NATO member and partner nations took part in “Defender Europe 22“.

The comment of the Ministry of Defense of Georgia

The Ministry of Defense has addressed the information spread by the media about the meaning of non-participation of the Georgian Defense Forces in the multinational exercise “Defender 23”, noting: “Unfortunately, this biased information is yet another provocation against the Defense Ministry. We explain to the public that the Defense Forces are constantly participating in and holding international exercises to improve their combat capabilities”.

The Ministry announced that, with regards to Georgia’s participation in the “Defender 2023” exercise, they have decided to allocate more resources and efforts based on the goals and objectives of the Georgian Defense Forces. This decision was made “through active communication with Georgia’s main strategic partner”, who provided the recommendation to “focus on international and local exercises that prioritize increasing combat readiness, increasing interoperability with NATO member and partner countries, sharing experience and improving professional skills”- said the Ministry of Defense.

US Embassy statement

On May 3, the US Embassy issued a statement confirming that the decision made by Georgia’s Ministry of Defense not to participate in the “Defender 23” military exercise was made in consultation with US representatives.

The statement reads: “The United States remains committed to enhancing the U.S-Georgia strategic partnership, working together to make both Georgia and America safer and more secure. In 2023 the United States and Georgia continue to do more across a broad range of cooperative military activities. This year, the United States and Georgia are jointly focused on maximizing beneficial training opportunities to enhance Georgia’s critical capabilities. As part of that effort, we mutually decided to focus resources on in-country, multi-national exercises – Agile Spirit and Noble Partner – and build on their previous success to most effectively strengthen Georgia’s interoperability and its capacity for resilience and defense”.

Comment by the NATO ASG for Emerging Security Challenges

On May 3, during his visit to Georgia, James Appathurai, the Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Emerging Security Challenges, stated that he had been informed by the Georgian government that the decision for Georgia not to participate in the international military exercise “Defender 2023” was made in consultation with the United States. Appathurai noted that he didn’t have further information about that particular exercise, but he had discussed with the Government representatives the future joint exercises in the areas of energy and cyber security, in which Georgia’s participation will be very important.

He emphasized the urgency and importance of being able to defend oneself militarily, and encouraged maximum cooperation in the exercises. “It is… extremely important that like minded democracies work together, that means also exercising together. In the end we are now in a situation that being able to defend ourselves militarily has become even more urgent… so I would just encourage the maximum, possible cooperation in exercises,” he said.

This news was updated to include the comment of the Ministry of Defense of Georgia, the statement of the US Embassy and the comment of the NATO ASG for Emerging Security Challenges.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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