A parliamentary commission studying the causes of the August war began hearings on October 25 with the testimony of Gela Bezhuashvili, the head of the foreign intelligence services.
The commission session was divided into two parts with the first one public, which was aired live on the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s second channel, and the second one behind closed-doors, as the information delivered by the intelligence chief was, as he put it, “of a sensitive nature” and involved “state secrets.”
The official name of the commission is the Temporary Commission to Study Russia’s Military Aggression and Other Actions Undertaken with the Aim of Infringing Georgia’s Territorial Integrity.
Below are the key points of Bezhuashvili’s testimony:
- Our information suggested Russia was planning a military intervention.
- The political will existed among the Russian leadership to carry out radical measures against Georgia.
- Analysis of both open and secret sources indicated that provocations were being prepared in the conflict areas, involving training and arming of the separatists forces, as well as preparing Cossacks [semi-regular volunteer paramilitary forces from the south of Russia] for an intervention into the conflict areas.
- Russian troops were being mobilized on the Georgian border and they were ordered to launch military operations “in the event of an escalation in tensions” – that is a quote from their instructions. But here I have to state that everything was done by Russia to escalate tensions.
- In addition to this, a diplomatic campaign was underway by Russia to portray Georgia as an aggressor and a propaganda campaign was underway aimed at convincing the international community that Georgia was planning a military operation.
- A decision was made in principle to carry out aggression against Georgia in the second half of 2007; that decision was then followed by a series of provocations.
- We were briefing the president and key ministries – including the Defense Ministry and Ministry of Internal Affairs - about these developments.
- The top leadership of Russia believed Georgia should have been punished because of its foreign policy course.
- Provocations using the separatists were planned, as a pretext for an invasion.
- Russia’s motives were – according to our information – Moscow was concerned over the strengthening of Georgia’s statehood and positive developments in the Tskhinvali region, involving rehabilitation projects there [reference to some reconstruction projects carried out in Tbilisi-controlled areas of South Ossetia under the auspices of the Tbilisi-backed South Ossetian provisional administration, led by Dimitri Sanakoev], as well as in Zemo Abkhazia [Kodori Gorge – the only part of breakaway Abkhazia, which was under Tbilisi’s control before the August war] - Russia was losing its grip on the conflict areas, in particular in South Ossetia; Russia was also concerned about Georgia’s success on the international arena and about Georgia’s NATO integration.
- Russia failed to undermine Georgia’s economy by embargo and the only lever left for Russia was a direct military intervention; Russia was in a hurry to create a secured buffer zone in Abkhazia ahead of the  Sochi Olympic Games [Sochi is about 40 kilometers from the Abkhaz border].
- The goal of the intervention was – we do not claim that this is a complete list – the overthrow of the Georgian government and imposition of a regime favorable for Russia; the reversal of Georgia’s foreign policy course; the blocking or control of the energy transit routes and prevention of the creation of a democratic state in Russia’s neighborhood.
- The war did not start on August 7, Russian troops were on Georgian territory and they were carrying out hidden annexation long before the August events.
- Russia started the deployment of additional troops in March 2008 and the intensive deployment of more troops started in May and June 2008 – here he was referring to Russia’s decision to send extra peacekeeping troops and railway forces to Abkhazia.
- On August 7 – early in the morning a large number of troops and hardware came into South Ossetia – a reference to evidence put forth by the Georgian authorities, involving intercepted phone conversations between South Ossetian militiamen.
- Mobilization of air forces started at the Mozdok airdrome in Russia’s North Ossetian Republic.
- Russia's A-50 reconnaissance aircraft, which is an AWACS type spy plane landed in Mozdok [North Ossetia] either on August 4 or 5. It is capable of correcting artillery fire.
- On August 7 – Additional troops came into the Ochamchire region of Abkhazia.
- We had a large inflow of information about these developments, involving movement of Russian troops and we were transferring this information to the Interior and Defense Ministries.
- Assessment of the expected scale of the aggression was not easy.
- On the evening of August, we saw a significant increase in Russian military involved in the aggression – the day Russia’s PM Vladimir Putin arrived in Vladikavkaz. At the closed-door session I will give you exact figures.
- After August 9 the scale of aggression significantly increased and we have information that Putin’s arrival in Vladikavkaz was in connection to this increase.
- The nature of the military exercise held close to the Georgian border in the North Caucasus by Russian forces under the codename – Kavkaz 2008, was different from those held in previous years. I will give you the details at the closed-door session.
- One of the motives of the Russian aggression was to deter Georgia’s NATO integration.
- The decision of the NATO Bucharest summit [not to grant Georgia a membership action plan] amounted to giving Russia an indirect veto [on Georgia’s NATO integration], which in turn untied Russia’s hands.
- I will answer that question – whether the western intelligence services were providing us with information related to planned Russian aggression – at the closed-door session.
- We – the intelligence service – were expecting that Russia would escalate tensions in September, October or in November 2008. Other Georgian agencies were supposing earlier, and as it turned out those agencies were right.
- On August 2, I was on a business trip abroad [he did not specify where he was] – I will give you details about that trip at the closed-door session – I returned to Georgia late on August 8.
- I informed the National Security Council about our [the intelligence service] supposition of expected Russian aggression.
- Adapting the national security concept in accordance to the new threats didn't happen on time.
- We had no intelligence information that Russia was planning to occupy western Georgia – including Poti, Senaki and Zugdidi.
- We have not made any analysis of speculation related to possible espionage by government members who have double [Russo-Georgian] citizenship – Bezhuashvili made this remark after commission chairman MP Paata Davitaia asked him about suspicions about the role of Kakha Bendukidze, head of the government’s administration and a former state minister for reforms.
- Once we informed the Economy Ministry about an investor planning investments in the strategic sector; the letter included information about who was behind that investor; that was the energy sector. We are unaware of the reaction to our letter.
- Bezhuashvili said he would answer a question on whether Russia had allies inside Georgia during the war at the closed-door session.
A member of the commission, MP Levan Vepkhvadze, asked Bezhuashvili what Vladimir Putin had whispered to him during a meeting between the Georgian and Russian presidents in Moscow on February 21, 2008. During the handshake ceremony at the beginning of the meeting, TV cameras captured Putin approaching Bezhuashvili, who also attended the meeting, and whispering something into his ear.
Bezhuashvili told the commission members, with a smile on his face, that he would answer that question at the closed-door session.