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Phone call backs up Georgian story

By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Wednesday, September 17
The New York Times published an article on September 15 quoting evidence about Russian military equipment being brought into Tskhinvali via the Roki Tunnel one day before Georgia attacked Tskhinvali, which the Georgian side had given US and European intelligence services.

The article, headlined “Georgia Offers Fresh Evidence on War’s Start” confirms the Georgian authorities’ claims that Russian troops entered the conflict zone before Georgia started shooting.

The evidence the Georgian Government has given to The New York Times includes a telephone conversation between two soldiers. The newspaper reports that the conversation had been recordable because the two men were using a local Georgian cell phone network. The two soldiers were supposedly the supervisor of the South Ossetian Border Guard Headquarters and a second guard at the tunnel called Gassiev.

According to NY Times in the first conversation, held at 2:41, Gassiev tells the supervisor that a Russian Colonel has asked Ossetian guards to inspect military vehicles that are “crowding” the tunnel. “The B.M.P.’s and other vehicles have been sent here and they’re crowding the entrance. The guys are standing around. He said we should inspect the vehicles. I didn’t know about this. Then he went out,” Gassiev said.

In a second call, made at 3:52 a.m., the supervisor wonders if the armaments have arrived. “Listen, have the armaments arrived or what?” the supervisor asks the guard at the tunnel. “The armaments and people,” the guard replies. Asked if they had gone through, he said, “Yes, 20 minutes ago; when I called you, they had already arrived.”

Russia claims that its forces regularly moved in and out of South Ossetia to supply the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Georgia explains that under peacekeeping documents signed by both sides in 2004, rotations of the Russian peacekeeping battalions can be conducted only in daylight and after not less than a month’s advance notification. “There was no notification,” Shota Utiashvili, the head of a Government analysis department, told The New York Times. The newspaper writes that Georgian officials say they gave all these materials to the United States and France, which holds the rotating Presidency of the EU, last week.

The New York Times asked Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili why they had not released this recording before, as more than a month has passed since the recorded conversation. Merabishvili answered that “the file containing the recordings was lost during the war when the surveillance team moved its centre of operations from Tbilisi, the capital, to the central city of Gori. Georgian intelligence officers later sifted through 6,000 files to retrieve copies.”