At the bottom of the recent demonstrations that have packed the capital city of Tbilisi with tens of thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of Georgian President Mikheil Saakavili is an investigation by the European Union (EU) as to who started last summer’s war between Georgia and Russia. According to a report in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, “A secret document may prove that the Georgian president had planned a war of aggression in South Ossetia.”
The Russians charge that Georgian troops launched a surprise attack on South Ossetia last Aug. 7, while Saakavili claims that Georgia was merely defending itself from an invasion by 150 Russian tanks through the Roki Tunnel connecting South Ossetia with North Ossetia. The latter is part of Russia.
But an investigation by the EU has uncovered “Order No. 2” dated Aug. 7, that says that Georgia was not defending itself but acting to “reestablish constitutional order” in South Ossetia. The EU is closely examining an Aug. 7 television interview in which Georgian Gen. Mamuka Kurashjvili used just those words. President Saakavili announced Aug. 8 that “Most of South Ossetia’s territory is liberated.” He did not claim that Georgia was acting in “self-defense” until Aug. 11. By that time Russian troops had driven the Georgian Army out of South Ossetia and were within 31 miles of Tbilisi. The war lasted five days.
The general’s remarks, reports Der Spiegel, “indicate that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was not repelling ‘Russian aggression,’ as he continues to claim to this day, but was planning a war of aggression.”
The EU commission questioned the Russian deputy head of the general staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, who said that the Russians had intercepted Order No. 2, and that it indeed contained the phrase about reestablishing constitutional order. “If the order, which Russian intelligence intercepted, is authentic, it would prove that Saakashvili lied,” says Der Spiegel.
The investigation found that Georgia had massed 12,000 troops and 75 tanks on the South Ossetian border for the Aug. 7 attack. The Russians tanks did not transit the tunnel until Aug. 8. While the Commission is also critical of the Russians for meddling in South Ossetia and not preventing South Ossetians from destroying some Georgian villages, “the EU investigation seems to be more of a problem for Tbilisi than for Moscow,” according to Der Spiegel.
The Georgians refuse to turn over Order No. 2 to the commission, claiming it is a state secret. And Georgian Minister Temur Yakobashvili charges that the investigation is being funded by Russian gas giant, Gazprom. The commissioners , who reject the charges, are Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, and former German ambassador to Georgia, Uwe Schramm. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer advises the commission.
“More and more former allies of Saakashvili are now blaming the authoritarian president for the war and calling for his resignation,” says Der Spiegel. Indeed, Nino Burjanadze, who helped lead the revolution that put Saakashvili into office, and Irakli Alasania, former Georgian ambassador to the United Nations, are leading the opposition demonstrations.
So far, Saakashvili has not unleashed the police as he did in breaking up similar rallies in 2007, but he arrested 10 opposition members on the eve of the current demonstrations, accusing them of planning a violent overthrow of the government. The charge is based on a secret tape that records a man identified as a “coordinator” for Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement—United Georgia Party saying that the former speaker is planning to provoke violence. Burjanadze denies knowing the so-called “coordinator” and says he has no position of authority in her organization.
Saakashvili, who came to power in 2003, says he has no intention of resigning and will finish out his term in 2013. But demonstrators say they will not disperse until he steps down and calls an early election.
The beleaguered president says he is willing to negotiate with the opposition, however most the people camped out in front of the Parliament say that the call for “talks” is a ploy. “He says things like this only for the U.S. and Europe,” farmer Amiran Tsertskhladze told The New York Times, “but no one here believes he really wants dialogue.”
Sobering thought for the week: Only the opposition of Germany and France kept the Bush Administration from adding Georgia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) back in 2007. While the Obama Administration is not currently pushing for Georgia to join the alliance, the country’s membership is still on the agenda. Had Georgia been a NATO member during the Russia-Georgia War, it would have triggered Article 5 of the treaty requiring member states to come to Georgia’s aid—and NATO might have been snookered into a war with Russia.
CONN HALLINAN can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org