During his hour and a half testimony before the parliamentary commission studying the August war Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, comprehensively overviewed and recalled developments that was taking place before the August war.
In his testimoney on Novemeber 24 Bakradze mainly focusing on Georgia’s, as he put it, huge efforts to resolve conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia peacefully. Bakradze, who was state minister in charge of the conflict resolution issues in 2007 and then held a post of Foreign Minister in January-April, 2008, was stressing in his testimony that Tbilisi had done everything at its disposal to avert military confrontation, but Russia was “blocking” Georgia’s all the peace initiatives.
But the key issue, which was generating the most of the interest towards Bakradze’s testimony, was related to his August 10 televised address to the nation made at the time when fighting was not yet over.
In a statement, which was later slammed by the opponents, Bakradze called on the Georgian citizens “to resist the enemy forces everywhere with all the means available.”
“We call on you to be organized and firm and to resisting the enemy at every place, where it will be needed after the enemy forces enter our territory [at that time Russian troops were not yet deep inside the Georgian territory],” Bakradze said in an appeal to the nation made on behalf of the President and the government. Opponents later lashed out at Bakradze for making that statement calling it irresponsible.
Speaking before the parliamentary commission, Davit Bakradze said that the context and timing in which the statement was made should taken into consideration while judging the appeal.
“This statement was made by the noon on August 10. At that time we had received a reliable information about movement of Russian armed forces towards Zugdidi [a town at the Abkhaz administrative border] – that is the time, when Georgian forces retreated from Tskhinvali and returned to Gori and at that time the conflict was still localized only within the conflict zone [inside South Ossetia]; at that time the entry of Russian armed forces [deep inside the Georgian territory] would have meant the launch of a full-scale annexation,” Bakradze said.
He also said that the Georgian government at that time received, although unconfirmed, but credible information that not only the Russian troops, but the Abkhaz militias were also intending to cross the administrative border and enter Zugdidi.
“Eventually it [advance of the Abkhaz militias] did not happen – maybe because the Abkhaz authorities could not dare to do that, or maybe because lack of coordination with the Russian forces, but the threat of such scenario was real at that time,” Bakradze said, adding that one could easily imagine what could have happened in Zugdidi if the Abkhaz militias advanced towards the town.
“Some may criticize me today saying that my statement has made the Zugdidi population perplexed triggering them to flee the town. I agree – they were perplexed and they left their homes; but who the authorities could have kept silence when we had information that Russians were planning to enter Zugdidi accompanied by the Abkhazians raiding the local population?” he said.
Bakradze said that his statement also aimed at Russians.
He said that such a statement was a clear warning towards the Russian troops that in case of targeting the civilian population, the launch of “a guerrilla war and Afghanistanization of the process” by Georgians would have been inevitable.
“Just this was one of the deterrent factors that helped to avoid targeting peaceful population,” he said.
Below are other key points of the Bakradze’s testimony:
- The Georgian side has been constantly trying to reach out the Russian authorities, as well as the Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatists – although it was morally difficult to have contacts with those people who are responsible for ethnic cleansing - in order to find a peaceful solution to the conflicts and to avoid a confrontation;
- Georgia’s peace plans in respect of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region failed to be implemented because Russia has been constantly blocking them;
- We were engaged in humanitarian cooperation with the Abkhaz side secretly; there have been cases when they were sending persons for medical treatment in Tbilisi, but the Abkhaz officials were telling us not to make this public as they were fearing of Russia’s reaction, because, Abkhazians were telling us that Moscow was banning them to have any contacts with the Georgian side;
- We have never heard clearly from Russia what it wanted from Georgia, while we were always explaining that for us the key priorities were sovereignty, territorial integrity and our right to have a free choice, including in terms of Georgia’s NATO integration;
- There are speculations that Russia would have helped us in restoring the territorial integrity, if Tbilisi rejected its NATO ambitions; but Russia has never told us clearly that that was what they wanted;
- When things started to develop into a very dangerous scenario and when Russia openly undertaken steps directed towards annexation of the Georgian territories starting from spring, 2008, our major signal to the international community was – help us to stop this process today, as it can be late tomorrow. Starting from March it was the key message of our diplomacy;
- All our partners knew what was happening – we were informing them that Russia was leading the processes into this direction;
- In our contacts with our western partners we were stressing on the issues, which we considered as a red line: targeting peaceful population; Russia large scale military aggression and the launch of Russia’s military build-up in the breakaway regions; this latter was more expected, as the probability of direct aggression was less likely;
- Our western partners were receiving these red lines set by us with understanding, but they were at the same time warning us to be careful, because Russia was acting in a very provocative manner;
- Because of fear to undermine their bilateral ties with Russia, many western countries were just turning a blind eye to what was happing in Georgia; but the August events have clearly demonstrated Russia’s real face;
- Two red lines were crossed by Russia in August – peaceful population was under massive shelling and on August 7 the Georgian authorities received information that Russian military convoy was entering into South Ossetia. Combination of these two factors was something that which could not have remained without Georgia’s response;
- I was not in Georgia when the war broke up. I arrived in Tbilisi at dawn on August 8 [he did not specify where he was].