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Ex-PM Testifies Before War Commission
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 12 Nov.'08 / 15:59

Lado Gurgenidze, who served as Georgia’s Prime Minister from January to October, 2008, testified before the parliamentary commission studying the August war with Russia on November 12.

Below are key points of his testimony, which lasted about an hour:

  • Situation was worsening since March and we were following these developments; information about it was coming from the intelligence service, as well as through the Security Council channels;
  • We were doing our utmost to avoid tensions through, on the one hand, have direct dialogue with the separatist – which have failed to yield results, and on the other hand through informing our western partners about developments and also through gaining their support;
  • I really do not know what else we could have done to avert it [the war];
  • Last time I personally had a contact with the Russian side was in July, when I and Secretary of National Security Council, [Alexandre] Lomaia, met with [Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory] Karasin in Tbilisi; it was clear from that meeting that the [Tbilisi’s] plan had no chance of being accepted by Russians as they were not at all interested with free economic zone in Gali and Ochamchire;
  • This plan was about gradual return of IDPs, setting up of free economic zone and redeployment of the Russian peacekeepers beyond Kodori river. Gurgenidze said that the plan had nothing to do with so called Abkhazia’s carve-up or compromising Georgia’s territorial integrity;
  • There were intensive meetings in the government before August 7 and afterward on these developments to coordinate measures; no formal meeting of the government was held, because such a formal meeting could have triggered signs of panic;
  • Such scale of Russia’s aggression, which took place, was not expected and has not been discussed as a possible scenario – not only by us, but also by our [western] partners;
  • There was a communication problems; access into the newly occupied territories was very difficult;
  • We had stockpiles of basic products and this stockpile was more than enough; there was no sign of panic in terms of significant increased of demand on products; but the problem of was delivery of products to various regions, because parts of Georgian territories were occupied;
  • Along with the Healthcare Ministry, the Finance Ministry has also done a good job, including the customs service; we should not forget that one of the reasons of the aggression was to undermine Georgia’s role as important transit route; I also do not think there were flaws in the system of the Economy Ministry;
  • I was in Tbilisi during the combat activities. The ex-PM said that his major task was activities related to economic situation, financial system, stockpiles, coordination of humanitarian efforts with the international donors; he said that on August 8 he had a conference call with up to 300 foreign investors trying to allay their fears;
  • There was stability of currency rate and other economic parameters; foreign investors saw that despite the crisis, the Georgian government was working in an organized manner and tackling the issues;
  • We were in constant contacts with the central bank and the banking sector;
  • There were no signs of panic, no financial collapse; Georgia’s role of transit route was not undermined – in these terms Russia’s aggression has failed its goals;
  • Investors were amazed by the sustainability of Georgia’s financial system;
  • At one point Russians threatened to bomb forest in the vicinity to the Kulevi oil terminal [owned by the Azerbaijan’s state oil company, SOCAR], citing that the Georgian forces were hiding there, which was nonsense; we worked intensively to avoid this and the Azerbaijani side was also involved in resolving this issue;
  • I started to work on assessing damage inflicted by the war from August 10; there was a team, chaired by me, and later the World Bank-led international group also joined this process, which eventually resulted into the need assessment document, which was presented to international donors at the Brussels conference in October;
  • Gurgenidze was asked why BP kept silence about the reports that the oil pipeline running through Georgia was targeted by the Russian forces. Gurgenidze responded: As far as I can understand the reason was the fact that BP did not want to speak out about it fearing that it could have triggered falling of their shares;
  • During the hearings the ex-Prime Minister was pressed over absence of civil defense system in the country, especially in the light of the decree which Gurgenidze signed in March on setting up of an emergency situation management commission, chaired by the Prime Minister. Gurgenidze responded: Civil defense issues this is, I think, a prerogative of the National Security Council; despite large scale aggression, there was no massive air strikes on civilian targets; I share the responsibility, but I think it would be unproductive to discuss now scenarios which have never happened;
  • Gurgenidze was also asked about the information provided by the intelligence chief saying that his agency informed the authorities about possible Russian investments in one of “the strategic sectors” – the energy sector. Gurgenidze responded: In early October, there was a note from the intelligence service about that matter; I think the Economy Ministry will give you more detailed information about it.

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