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State Minister Testifies Before War Commission
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 27 Oct.'08 / 22:40

The temporary parliamentary commission studying the August war listened to the testimony of State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili on October 27.

Like the hearings with intelligence chief Gela Bezhuashvili on October 25, Iakobashvili’s testimony was divided into two parts with the first one public and aired live on the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s second channel and the second one behind closed doors.

Below are the key points of Iakobashvili’s testimony:

  • We knew that 2008 would be a difficult year; the Georgian authorities’ actions were very active and pro-active from 2008, trying to find a way for talks with Tskhinvali and Sokhumi. Our goal was to change the ineffective negotiating and peacekeeping formats.
  • The Abkhaz side unilaterally rejected talks with us and put forth the withdrawal of our police forces from upper Kodori Gorge as a precondition for direct talks; and Tskhinvali was demanding as a precondition for talks, meetings solely in the frames of the Joint Control Commission, which was ineffective; in addition, both Tskhinvali and Sokhumi were demanding non-use of force treaties between the two entities and Georgia;
  • Our response was let’s move to a new talks format. In the case of South Ossetia it was a 2+2+2 formula;
  • There have been lots of talks and exchanges of letters [between the sides]; in the summer there were two initiatives – one from the EU and another one from the OSCE – to hold a meeting with the [South Ossetian] separatist authorities either in Brussels, or in Helsinki – both of these proposals were rejected by the separatists. The Russians were saying as usual – yes we want this meeting, but [South Ossetian leader Eduard] Kokoity is against it.
  • After Kosovo, Russia was doing everything to hold talks without any progress; The Russians were also creating obstacles for international involvement in the process.
  • In the case of Abkhazia, my first meeting with them in Geneva [in the frames of the UN Secretary General’s Group of Friends] left a negative impression on me; that meeting was akin to [the Group of Friends] giving homework to the Georgian and Abkhaz sides, telling us to do this and that and then lets meet again and report back to them; that, I think, had nothing to do with a meaningful peace process.
  • Vladislav Chernov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s point man in charge of Abkhaz issues, was transferred to another assignment. Afterwards it seemed that the Russian Foreign Ministry’s influence was reduced and its role only involved leveling allegations and accusations against the Georgian side.
  • The president’s peace initiatives in respect of Abkhazia were very detailed and concrete.
  • These initiatives were developed using the experience of various non-governmental groups;
  • This was the first time we had offered the Abkhaz side very concrete proposals – Iakobashvili then listed those proposals.
  • We sent those proposals to Sokhumi via two sources; the Abkhaz side distanced themselves very much from those proposal; they later sent us a response, which contained unacceptable proposals;
  • In the case of Tskhinvali we also offered a free economic zone, that would have helped people-to-people contacts.
  • We were actively engaged in talks with our western partners, trying to trigger a sense of alarm among them over Russia’s moves in respect of Georgia’s separatist regions. This process intensified after Kosovo.
  • Putin’s letters to the separatists’ leaders were the first signs that Russia was preparing something;
  • That was followed by Russia’s withdrawal from the CIS sanctions treaty on Abkhazia;
  • We were telling our partners that Russia’s withdrawal from that treaty was very alarming, because that document along with economic issues also concerned restrictions on military cooperation with the separatist regime in Sokhumi. From the economic point of view, we were telling our western partners that we also wanted to de-isolate Abkhazia;
  • One of the last proposals offered by Tbilisi to Moscow was laid out in the Georgian president’s letter to his Russian counterpart. That plan in no way envisaged dividing Abkhazia into two - Gali and Ochamchire for Georgia and the rest of Abkhazia for Russia.
  • That plan envisaged a Russian troop withdrawal beyond the Kodori river; their replacement in Gali and Ochamchire with an international police force and the creation of free economic zones there.
  • Our proposal - as an initial step - would have led to the de-isolation of Abkhazia.
  • The major principle of that proposal was that Georgia’s territorial integrity would not be infringed. During all the negotiations my mandate involved the following: territorial integrity is paramount; talks are possible on everything assuming territorial integrity is respected.
  • After the withdrawal from the CIS sanctions treaty, there was the April 16 decision of Russia and from that point it became clear that Russia was seriously preparing for something; we increased our diplomatic efforts ten-fold from thereafter.
  • The deployment of extra troops – paratrooper units – was a clear indication that Russia was preparing for a military intervention. The positioning of those extra troops also indicated that serious provocations were being prepared in Kodori Gorge.
  • We expected a flare-up of tensions in three potential areas – Gali, Kodori or South Ossetia;
  • We were informing our western partners of the threat of escalation, but their reaction was like the one I received in Brussels: In May in Brussels I said that we were close to war. I was approached by one diplomat and was told that the word ‘war’ was not popular in Brussels and advised not to use that word;
  • Our western partners were telling us not to yield to Russia’s provocations;
  • Our western partners, both Europeans and Americans, strongly insisted on maintaining the Russian peacekeeping mandate in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I am not sure whether it was right that we believed them [western partners] on this matter. All of our friends were telling us to refrain from doing that.
  • Our western partners requested us not to do that and they told us that they would take care of that matter; they were telling us that they would push that issue with the Russians.
  • When asked if the government had told Georgia’s western partners about “the red lines,” the crossing of which would have triggered the use of force by Georgia, Iakobashvili responded: I can tell you at the closed-door session with whom we raised this issue. We told several times our western partners that we would react appropriately if there was a raid on the Georgian population in the Gali district or the deployment of extra troops indicating open military intervention.
  • There was an agreement and understanding from our western partners on this matter and they were telling us: yes of course you have to react in those cases.
  • The president [Mikheil Saakashvili] was telling us to avoid escalation;
  • We were using every opportunity for talks and when the Abkhaz side requested a meeting with [Georgia’s UN ambassador Irakli] Alasania, we responded positively and Alasania arrived in Sokhumi; but it has to be mentioned here that when we met with the Abkhaz side in Sweden, they rejected all of the issues which were discussed between them and Alasania in Sokhumi.
  • At some point a decision was made in Russia to redirect provocations [from Abkhazia] to South Ossetia – I suggest that the reason was that with South Ossetia, they were thinking, it would have been easier to create a moral pretext for an attack – like genocide of the South Ossetian people.
  • I will show you a document dated May 2008 at the closed-door session – it is a Russian document and it indicates that a serious escalation was planned.
  • Large caliber artillery was used in the shelling of Georgian villages in early August.
  • That is confirmed in the August 4 letter, which was sent by [Russian commander of the peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia Marat] Kulakhmetov. He writes in the letter [sent to the Georgian side] that 120-mm shells were used in attacks on Georgian villages;
  • I arrived in the conflict zone on August 4 and met with Kulakhmetov and told him that tensions could grow into a serious confrontation.
  • I arrived in Tskhinvali on August 7 – Tskhinvali was empty.
  • I met with Kulakhmetov in the JPKF headquarters.
  • I told Kulakhmetov to stop the escalation. He told us that he was not capable of stopping them [the South Ossetian side].
  • He then proposed that we unilaterally announce a ceasefire; he also told us that there might be provocations, but asked us to maintain the ceasefire… I had the impression that Kulakhmetov was trying to arrange talks and prevent confrontation, but, it seemed, he wasn't even informed of the decisions of his superiors in the Russian military.
  • I informed the President and he told me that we would unilaterally announce a ceasefire. That's evening about August 7.
  • I told Kulakhmetov that we were ceasing fire for three hours; he complained that a ceasefire should last at least till the following morning, but we responded that this was a goodwill gesture and we now expected a reciprocal move.
  • Before going to Tskhinvali [on August 7], I proposed to Yuri Popov [a Russian diplomat who was chief Russian negotiator for South Ossetian issues] – who at that time was in Tbilisi - to go to Tskhinvali for talks together; he refused and told me that he would go to Tskhinvali later. When I arrived in Tskhinvali I called him and asked about his plans. He responded that he was close to Gori but could not continue because of a flat tire… Popov arrived in Tskhinvali only after I left.
  • I made an announcement about the ceasefire at a news conference after I arrived from Tskhinvali at 6pm, August 7.
  • I met with the president late at night on August 7 and he was receiving information that shooting had not ceased from the opposite side.
  • The president did not give any order to take over Tskhinvali. I was there in the same room with the president and I witnessed the president only giving three orders: 1. Stop a convoy of Russian tanks advancing on Tskhinvali; 2. neutralize all the firing positions from where our positions were targeted; 3. minimal casualties among civilians;
  • These are the three orders I personally heard the president give through a secure line.
  • I do not know with whom the president was talking and to whom he was giving these orders;
  • These orders were given at approximately 11pm on August 7… I can not give the precise time; it was between 10pm and 11pm;
  • During my meeting with the president, he was periodically contacted [by other officials] for updates on the ground; he was informed from three separate sources that the convoy of Russian tanks was moving towards Tskhinvali;
  • Iakobashvili was asked whether President Saakashvili used the term ‘restoration of constitutional order’ in giving the three orders – a reference to a statement by a senior Georgian military official made on the night of August 7, when Mamuka Kurashvili announced in televised remarks that Georgia was launching an operation to restore constitutional order in the Tskhinvali region. Iakobashvili responded that no such order had been given by the president – only those three mentioned above.
  • As far as I know, before making that televised statement, Kurashvili spoke on the phone with Kulakhmetov – I learnt about it from Kulakhmetov – and Kurashvili told Kulakhmetov that [the Georgian side] was “restoring order.” The Russians were trying to make PR out of that, claiming the Georgian side was resolving problem through the use of force. We had no intention of resolving the issue through the use of force.
  • Very precise targeting was carried out on some installations from where our villages in the north and south of Tskhinvali were being fired upon. We did not shell sleeping Tskhinvali with GRAD rocket launchers – as claimed by the Russians. One of the targets was the village of Khetagurovo and an area called Verkhny Garadok.
  • We did everything we could have done on the diplomatic arena to prevent the war;
  • During the war there was a meeting with the president during which a very difficult decision had to be made – either a guerrilla war – meaning Chechenization or Afghanization, or retreat. The decision was made to withdraw the troops and that was one of the reasons why the number of casualty was not high among the military.
  • Frankly speaking, there are some diplomats who feel uncomfortable when you tell them: you were fully informed [about possible developments], but did not do anything, or not enough; it does not refer to every country, but sometimes we make accusations because the actions of some [diplomats] were not adequate – he made these remarks in response to a question about some foreign diplomats complaining about Iakobashvili’s tough-worded statements. Iakobashvili also said in this respect: tough statements made by me and by us were aimed at attracting attention and at demonstrating that it was war and it was no longer an ordinary confrontation;
  • The Russians were trying to shed blood between the Georgians and Abkhazians; they were trying to incite clashes between the Georgians and Abkhazians in parallel to clashes in South Ossetia. I can tell you that no new blood was shed between Georgians and Abkhazians. Upper Kodori Gorge was taken over by the Russians. The Georgian side repelled seven of their attacks and then they launched air strikes.
  • During the war the government worked in three groups – targeting three areas – economic/humanitarian; diplomatic and security/military.

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