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FM Testifies Before War Commission
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 26 Oct.'08 / 00:57

After listening to testimony by chief of intelligence service, Gela Bezhuashvili, the parliamentary commission studying events leading up to the August war with Russia, questioned Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili on October 25.

Unlike the the hearings involving the intelligence chief, the entire testimony by the foreign minister was public, aired live on the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s second channel. 

Below are the key points of the foreign minister’s testimony:

  • Georgia’s choice of freedom and independence, democracy and western values was in general the reason behind Russian aggression.
  • Success in Euro-Atlantic integration, as well as Georgia’s role as an energy transit route, was perceived by Russia as a threat.
  • What happened was not only about Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but part of a bigger picture, involving Russian geopolitical ambitions of restoring its empire.
  • Broad autonomy – economic, political and cultural – was offered by Tbilisi to the breakaway regions; the return of displaced persons in dignity and safety was also proposed.
  • The Geneva process under the aegis of the [UN Secretary General’s] Group of Friends was not fruitful. Russia’s monopoly over the peacekeeping and negotiating process was the main reason for this.
  • Unfortunately, it seemed there was no major readiness among the international community to change that situation or to confront Russia in the process. There was a supposition among the international community that Russia’s stance could be made more constructive through prolonged negotiations.
  • Our focus was on the internationalization of the peace process; the return of displaced persons; economic cooperation between communities, involving free economic zones in Gali and Ochamchire, and later at the next stage, on political issues – the distribution of powers between local and central authorities.
  • The only impediment was Russia’s deterrent role. Russia was doing everything, preventing even direct contacts between us and the separatist authorities.
  • A letter from the Georgian president to his Russian counterpart [involving a proposal on Abkhazia, which informally has become known as the carve-up deal] is public and we will give you a copy of the letter, as well as a copy of the letter sent by the Russian side in response.
  • It was a very pragmatic proposal to Russia.
  • It was not a plan envisaging the total resolution of the problem; it was only a kind of first step towards complete resolution.
  • The proposal involved setting up a free economic zone in Gali and Ochamchire and the withdrawal of Russian troops from those districts and their replacement with an internationally supervised joint Georgian-Abkhaz police force, and the return of internally displaced persons. At the next stage, the idea was to extend that process further north [to other parts of Abkhazia].
  • We were proposing that Russia be part of this positive process. We did not want internationalization at the expense of Russia’s interests; we were offering very a pragmatic proposal. The proposal also involved Russia revoking its April 16 decision [on establishing direct official links with Abkhaz and South Ossetian state structures].
  • The Russian response was very tough, against IDP return, saying it wasn't the right time.
  • The Russians also refused to revoke the April 16 decision, or to withdraw additional military forces. It was very a unconstructive response to the Georgian authorities’ very pragmatic proposal.
  • Our international partners, including [U.S.] Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice, welcomed those proposals.
  • Since last spring, the Foreign Ministry has been working in an emergency regime. We were permanently informing our [international] partners of threats. Our partners were very well informed by us about developments.
  • It was a great success that not a single resolution has been passed in the UN Security Council that was somehow against Georgian interests.
  • I cooperated with our ambassador to Russia [Erosi Kitsmarishvili] for a short period of time [Kitsmarishvili was appointed as Georgian ambassador in April and was recalled from Moscow in July after Russia admitted violating Georgia’s airspace]. I had the impression that he was a newcomer to that country and was not well oriented and had no local political channels there. For us he was not a serious diplomatic source.
  • The foreign minister also suggested that Kitsmarishvili “misunderstood his role and task.”
  • Our decision was very appropriate to recall the ambassador; but some of his remarks made afterwards were inappropriate. He said that he was sorry that we [the Georgian side] had failed to convince the Russian side about the sincerity of our peace intentions.
  • Tkeshelashvili’s remarks on Kitsmarishvili were in response to a request by the commission chairman for her to comment on the former ambassador’s allegation that information passed by him to the Foreign Ministry had been ignored.
  • When military intervention started we asked the Russian Foreign Ministry to arrange talks between the presidents, but we were refused. Only after the intervention of Secretary Rice and [German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter] Steinmeier, did [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov agree to speak with me.
  • During the conversation with Lavrov, it became obvious that Russia was just delaying and was uninterested in a ceasefire.
  • They were demanding a Georgian troop withdrawal from certain areas and when we about the verification mechanism, they said they would analyze the situation based on information received from their own security services, which in fact meant that Russia could have said at any moment that we were not fulfilling our commitments; such an approach was unacceptable.
  • It seems that the large-scale Russian military intervention was a shock for the international community, which may explain the delayed international reaction. [This comment was made in response to a question as to why the international reaction took three days to come after the start of the war.]
  • There have no attempts at direct contacts recently with Moscow; although we tried to have business-like talks at the Geneva talks, which were not possible because of Russia’s unconstructive stance.
  • She said that the official statement decalring a state of war had not been made early on August 7 because “that would have been a huge political statement, because at that time we were still trying to reverse the situation and to prevent war with Russia; we were trying to prevent an even larger military intervention.”
  • The assessment that Georgia started the war and Russia responded disproportionately is incorrect. There might be some questions about how adequate the Georgian side’s response was, but as far as this issue is concerned, we are still open for cooperation with the international investigation – these remarks by Tkeshelashvili followed a  a question by commission member MP Levan Vepkhvadze, who asked why there was an international perception that Georgia had initiated the war – as an example, he cited a recent statement of the French president.
  • Any type of international investigative commission’s mandate should involve a probe of not only the August events, but also an in-depth study of the ethnic cleansing, which was carried out not only in August, but also in the early 90s. A failure by the international community to investigate the first wave was to a certain extent a cause for the most recent ethnic cleansing.

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