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‘War Commission’ holds first hearings

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, October 27
The temporary Parliamentary Commission to study the causes of the August war began its hearings on Saturday. The first people to testify before the Commission were head of the Foreign Intelligence Service Gela Bezhuashvili and Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili. The Commission, which was created to study Russia’s military aggression and other actions undertaken with the aim of infringing on Georgia’s territorial integrity, mainly focused on the reasons for the August military conflict between Russia and Georgia and the work of the two Government departments during the crisis situation in the country.

The hearing was divided into public and closed parts. The Second Channel of the Georgian Public Broadcaster aired the first part, the second was held behind the closed doors. However, the Georgian Foreign Minister’s whole testimony was public.

Gela Bezhuashvili told the Commission that the Russian military intervention had been preplanned long ago and was aimed at overthrowing the Georgian Government and imposing a regime that would favour Russian interests. Bezhuashvili said the Russia was planning to reverse Georgia’s foreign policy course, block or control the energy transit routes and prevent the creation of a democratic state in Russia’s neighbourhood. The Intelligence Service chief pointed out that one of the reasons for Russian aggression was the Bucharest summit decision. Bezhuashvili told the Commission that Russia tried to deter Georgia from NATO integration by escalating the situation in the country; Bezhuashvili noted that Russia was concerned over the strengthening of Georgia’s statehood and positive changes occurring in the Tskhinvali region and Upper Abkhazia.

Bezhuashvili said the Intelligence Service had been expecting Russia would begin aggressive actions towards Georgia, however it did not possess any information about a possible intervention in Poti, Senaki and Zugdidi. “We, the intelligence service, expected that Russia would begin an escalation of tensions in September, October or November, 2008,” Bezhuashvili told the Commission members. He noted that some Georgian agencies had predicted this escalation would happen earlier, and as it turned out those agencies were proved right, but he did not specify which agencies he meant.

According to Bezhuashvili, Russia started deploying additional forces on Georgian territory in March 2008. He said that the National Security Council had been notified about the expected Russian aggression, adding, that “It failed to timeously adapt the national security concept in accordance with the new threats.” Bezhuashvili said that work on the country’s new security concept should start soon, and that a special group is already developing a new risk analysis, on which a security concept is usually based.

Commission members asked Bezhuashvili what Vladimir Putin had whispered to him during the meeting of the Georgian and Russian Presidents in Moscow in February 2008, however he avoided answering the question and promised to respond during the closed door session.

Speaking to the journalists after the session, Bezhuashvili said that Parliamentary Commission’s questions were tough. He added that the meeting was constructive. “The country and society will obtain a realistic picture of what happened in Georgia in August if the Commission works the way it is doing now,” Bezhuashvili noted. At the same time Paata Davitaia, the head of the Parliamentary Commission, said that Bezhuashvili’s answers had been comprehensive. “I hope the heads of all institutions will give us the same kind of comprehensive answers,” he added.

Eka Tkeshelashvili, the Georgian Foreign Minister was the next to testify, on Saturday. Like Bezhuahsvili, she reiterated that the Russian aggression was a long preplanned action. “The conflict started before August 2008, it started in 2000,” Tkeshelashvili said, and added that the reason for the Russian military intervention in Georgia was the country’s success on its way to independence, democracy and the establishment of European values. The Foreign Minister mentioned that the Georgian Government had told Russia it would cooperate with it to ensure the peaceful resolution of the conflicts, but Russia refused the Georgian offer. “The response by Russia to these proposals was very tough, in fact Russia was against the return of previous IDPs, saying that it was not time for them to return,” Tkeshelashvili said.

The Commission members asked the Foreign Minister about the reasons for the international reaction which came three days after the start of the war. Tkeshelashvili said that international society was not expecting that Russian military actions would be so harsh. “It seems that the Russian large-scale military intervention was a shock for the international community, and this could have been a reason for the delayed international reaction,” the Minister said, adding that in her opinion Russia was planning to overthrow the Government and occupy Tbilisi.

Tkeshelashvili told the Commission that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia had initiated a dialogue between the Russian and Georgian Presidents following the August conflict, however the initiative was rejected by the Russian side. Later, Tkeshelashvili added, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to talk to her. “During the conversation with Lavrov, it became obvious that Russia was just dragging out time and was not interested in ceasefire,” Tkeshelashvili said.

To a question about the common view in the international community that Georgia started the war, Tkeshelashvili responded that such assessments do not exist. “There might be some questions about how adequate the Georgian side’s response was, but as far as this issue is concerned, we are still open for cooperation with the international investigation,” she said.

The Commission Chair asked the Minister about the former Ambassador to Russia’s allegations that the Foreign Ministry ignored some of his information. Tkeshelashvili said that she had cooperated with Erosi Kitsmarishvili for a short period of time. She said that she had an impression that he was not well oriented in Russia and had no local political channels, as he was a newcomer to the country. “He was not a serious diplomatic source,” Tkeshelashvili stated. After the session, which ended late in the evening, both the Commission members and the Foreign Minister assessed the meeting as “successful.” “The commission was well informed about the issue. I am ready to cooperate with the Commission if they have any additional questions,” Tkeshelashvili told journalists. “We received comprehensive information, and it is very important that the Foreign Minister and the Chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service expressed a readiness to cooperate with us in the future, if needed,” MP from the ruling National Movement Party and member of the commission Givi Targamadze said.

However, some commentators have criticized the Commission session through different media outlets. Soso Tsintsadze said the decision to broadcast the session live on air was not the right one, because “the people invited to the session will only say what the Commission member MPs and housewives would like to hear from them,” and added that finding out the truth at this kind of sessions would be absolutely impossible. Soso Tsiskarishvili also noted that airing the session was not a good idea. He told journalists that that if the Commission continues working in the same way, it will eventually put its reputation in doubt in the eyes of society. “The questions asked by the Commission members make it clear that they are interested in making society believe that the versions delivered by the Government about the August events are true,” Tsiskarishvili said, speaking to Georgian journalists. The Messenger has been trying to contact members of the Temporary Parliamentary Commission for their comments, but has not been able to reach them.

The next hearing of the Commission is planned for Monday. The State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili, and the Secretary of the National Security Council Kakha Lomaia, will testify.