Talk of possible renewal of Russia’s aggression has been deliberately “thrown-in” by Moscow itself to trigger panic in Georgia and scare off investors, Vano Merabishvili, a powerful interior minister, said.
In a rare televised interview with Rustavi 2 TV’s late night talk show on March 6, he also said that there were some controversial figures and forces ready “to finance the Georgian opposition or other provocations.”
‘Three Reasons of Why It is Ruled Out’
Merabishvili said that there were three key reasons of why he believed that renewal of Russia’s “large-scale military aggression against Georgia in the near future is practically ruled out.”
“First, it is the U.S.-Georgia charter on strategic partnership, which gives our country a serious security guarantee,” he said.
“The second, it is internal political situation in Russia itself and deep crisis which is now in Russia, including in Russia’s defense ministry and among military,” Merabishvili said.
“The plans of the Russian military forces currently deployed in Abkhazia and in the Tskhinvali region does not give us a reason to assume that a large-scale aggression is planned against Georgia in the near future.”
“At the same time the Georgian Defense Ministry and to a certain extent the Interior Ministry as well have rearranged the strategy,” He said without going further into details. “Based on these three factors we can say that Russia’s large-scale military aggression in the near future is practically ruled out.”
But he also added, that “possibility of minor provocations, however, persists.”
Discussions over possible renewed aggression by Russia have been among leading topics of the Georgian national television stations’ reports and talk shows in recent weeks. Rustavi 2 TV aired a report late last month suggesting that Russia would use both inciting internal strife and “possibly the military provocation” in order “to undermine Georgia’s statehood.” Earlier senior lawmaker from the ruling party, Givi Targamadze, claimed that Russia had a plan “to overthrow” Georgia’s and Ukraine’s “statehood” by June, 2009.
Merabishvili said that remarks by MP Givi Targamadze were made in the context of, what he called, “a political threat, rather than a physical threat, or a large-scale military threat.” He also said that not a single Georgian official talked of a possible large-scale Russian military aggression.
“At the same time I want to stress that it seems to me that an attempt to seed such a perception about possible aggression in the near future is thrown-in information, thrown-in provocation, which, I think, is thrown-in by Russia and our other adversaries. The major aim of that is to trigger panic among citizens and keep them on a negative mood and also to scare off investors from Georgia,” Merabishvili said.
‘Suspicious Funds for Opposition’
Merabishvili was asked to elaborate about President Saakashvili’s recent statement, who said “lots of money” had been invested in the Georgian politics recently, which would ”not be used for good deeds.”
“I do not want make political statements, but I can say that we are working on this direction; threats of this type have always persisted in Georgia and we had concrete facts of that type on which the Interior Ministry was making statements in the past, including for example Igor Giorgadze’s party case. As soon as we confirm the facts the society will be informed. But at the same time I want to say that Georgia is a small country and many people know everything and the society itself sees very well which political group has what kind of funding and resources.”
He declined to elaborate further on the matter and added: “I will make a statement on that when time comes and when we have concrete facts. I will refrain from making political statements.”
Remarks by the President triggered wave of criticism among the opposition politicians who accused the authorities of smearing the opposition by empty rhetoric without providing any evidence of cases of suspicious funding.
Days before the President’s remarks, Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Bakradze, also claimed that Russia-based some former Georgian officials could finance triggering instability in Georgia named ex-leader of Adjara Aslan Abashidze; Kakha Targamadze, the interior minister in ex-president Shevardnadze’s administration and Levan Mamaladze, he served as governor of Kvemo Kartli region under Shevardnadze’s presidency.
“We can add some more names to that list, for example Tariel Oniani and others as well,” Vano Merabishvili said in the televised interview.
“But at the same time I want to tell you that these people are not key figures who will finance the Georgian opposition or other provocations that may take place in Georgia; such sponsors will be more serious figures,” he added.
He also said in this context that as a result of “a serious analysis of the Russian media” it had become clear that “the Russian propaganda has in fact failed to find a person with Georgian ethnic background in Russia, who would come out with anti-Georgian statements.”
“I am happy that ethnic Georgians in Russia – most of them – remain patriots and help the Georgian state secretly or openly,” Merabishvili added.
He also said that internal “military confrontation” within Georgia was “ruled out,” because the authorities had “resources more than enough” to prevent such scenario.
Responding to a question about a group of opposition parties’ plans to launch permanent protest rallies from April 9 to demand President Saakashvili’s resignation, Merabishvili said the law guaranteed freedom of expression and assembly.
He has denied Public Defense Sozar Subari’s allegation, who claimed that senior officials, including Interior Minister, deliberately planned to use excessive force on November 7, 2007 against anti-government demonstration. Subari told the Parliament on December 30 that he had a proof that a meeting was held in the Interior Ministry on November 4 when such plan was discussed.
“A meeting with decision to break up the November 7 rally was not held in the Interior Ministry on November 4,” Merabishvili said. “Routine meetings of course are taking place and those meetings aim to maintain peace and order throughout Georgia and to eradicate illegal acts. Right of expression and assembly is guaranteed by the law and we, the police, is obliged to protect the rights including of those who participate in the rallies and we will continue performing this task.”
He said that allegations about having links with RAK Georgia Holding and its take over of the Imedi media holding were “groundless and not serious.” “I have no ties whatsoever with this company,” Merabishvili said.
He said that assumption that he was the most influential figure in the Saakashvili’s administration was “over-exaggerated.” But in this context he also said that during his tenure as Interior Minister, since December, 2004, there had been cases when the President was giving him broader tasks.
“During the withdrawal of the Russian military bases from Adjara and Javakheti I was tasked to coordinate the work of all state agencies in those regions and you remember four years ago tens of thousands of people gathered in Akhalkalaki at a rally protesting against withdrawal of the Russian military base from there. But as a result of our one-year work, we managed to create the situation wherein even hundred people did not gather at a rally. I still have the authority to coordinate work of the state agencies in the conflict areas,” Merabishvili said.
The most recently he was charged by the President to coordinate housing program for thousands the families, who were displaced as a result of the August war. And in 2007 when the President complained about “import monopolies” and price hikes on some products, Merabishvili announced that the Interior Ministry decided to intervene and help reduce price on salt by providing additional salt on the market from the Interior Ministry’s stockpiles.