Investigation into August, 2012 Lopota gorge clash that killed three Georgian troops and several suspected militants may reveal “shocking” results and substantiate allegations voiced by the Public Defender that the previous government trained and equipped militants to then send them to Russia’s North Caucasus, PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said.
President Saakashvili responded that Ivanishvili’s “irresponsible” and “extremely dangerous” remarks were precisely in line with Russian propaganda, which, he said, would get Georgia into a trouble.
Earlier this month Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, said that his probe found evidence suggesting that the armed group, involved in the clash, close to Lapankuri village in Lopota gorge at the Dagestan section of Georgian-Russian border, was formed, armed and trained by then leadership of the Georgian Interior Ministry, which recruited members of the group mainly from Chechen exiles by promising them to give free passage to Russia’s North Caucasus via Georgia.
PM Ivanishvili made remarks about probe into Lopota gorge clash during an interview with Rustavi 2 TV on April 26. When speaking about his government’s efforts to mend ties with Russia, he said that along with toning down rhetoric the government was also taking concrete steps, and listed among them “our support” to 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, as well as “ongoing investigation into Lapankuri” incident in the Lopota gorge.
“I have stated for number of times that Georgia’s territory was used as a transit route for North Caucasus militants… We have closed this [route] maximally and I think it will not reoccur anymore… That is in the interests of the entire world, including of Russia,” PM Ivanishvili said, adding that Georgia’s actions should be “transparent, correct, understandable and acceptable for everyone.”
“That’s what we will do; it’s not only about empty rhetoric,” Ivanishvili added.
Then an interviewer asked the PM, citing Public Defender’s report about Lopota gorge clash: “What expectations do you have, do you think that investigation may reveal that terrorists were really undergoing any kind of training in Georgia?” Ivanishvili responded: “I think it is possible.”
“I can consider ombudsman’s allegations as very real, but not yet as confirmed [facts]; let’s wait for the investigation, which is now ongoing.” Ivanishvili said. “I suspect that what the ombudsman was talking about is true, but I will refrain from [further comments] as investigation will be over in the near future and we will learn many new facts, which, I think, might be even shocking. There are suspicions about [the previous] government cooperating with militants and terrorists and it will be shocking for me if these allegations are confirmed.”
Asked if it will be damaging for “country’s image”, Ivanishvili responded: “It may probably damage the country’s image” and immediacy added that it would only happen if “other countries investigate and confirm” such allegations.
“But if Georgia’s new government [itself investigates] these allegations and at the same time shows that it rejects such actions and drastically distances itself from such actions, it will benefit the country,” Ivanishvili said.
Responding to Ivanishvili’s remarks, President Saakashvili said after meeting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Sedona, Arizona, on April 26 that his government had never been involved “in training of any terrorists.”
Saakashvili said that Ivanishvili’s remarks were “precisely in line with propaganda, which has been underway by Russians throughout all these years against us in order to weaken us and in order to take over Georgia.”
Saakashvili said that the PM’s remarks were especially alarming against the background of Boston terrorist acts “in which unfortunately two Chechens were involved.” He said he was not aware what the motive behind PM’s remarks was. “Maybe he did it because now I am in the United States, I don’t know,” Saakashvili said.
“Does he realize at all… what a trouble he gets country into? There are serious people in the United States and I am sure nobody will take it seriously here, but various forces are working here too and if you want to choose the shortest way to make Georgia lose western support and leave it armless in front of occupation, to leave the country without any support from our friends in front of foreign threats, then you should try to convince them [Georgia’s western partners] in such things,” Saakashvili said.
“Before I hold this post [of the President] and before we are heard here [in the United States], he will probably fail to do it. But one must not play with such issues. I regret very much that the Georgian Prime Minister either does not understand it, or does not want to understand. I want to tell the members of his government – there are people there, who cannot but understand it – at least you speak out; at least you can tell the Prime Minister not to do such things, and if he does not follow your [advice], then go public, because let me repeat, it’s about Georgia’s existence and its future. We have to completely distance ourselves from not only such irresponsible but also extremely dangerous statements.”
“As the President, I declare with full responsibility that not only had Georgia never participated in training any terrorists, but just we have done everything for Georgia to be a responsible member of the international community,” Saakashvili said.