The messenger logo

Questions after the answers

By Messenger staff
Monday, December 1
President Saakashvili’s 5 hour interrogation was the conclusion of the work of an ad hoc Parliamentary Commission on the August events. Its report should be ready within a couple of weeks.

The work and possible outcomes of the Commission have been very controversial. The non-Parliamentary opposition and the more critical part of the population were from the beginning rather suspicious of the Commission. It stated that it was created to whitewash the administration and conceal the real reasons for the defeat and even the fact that Georgia had been defeated. The authorities, however, claimed that even the existence of such a Commission was an example of democracy in action and that it would provide answers to many unclear questions concerning the August war. Both opinions have a certain basis in fact. Let us consider the arguments.

Some analysts say that after these highly advertised hearings nothing new has been said and we know exactly as much as we did before. Others consider the investigation results very valuable and express their confidence that the published results will clear up many ambiguities about the issue. It could however be suggested that many of the answers given raised extra questions for the population which were not answered or even asked. The question of who started the war, in particular has still not been answered clearly. This is a very important one, because even our Western friends have certain doubts about it, and much of Georgia’s future depends on the attitude of these friends, which will be largely dictated by the answer to this question.

Classically war starts when foreign armed forces cross state borders and occupy another sovereign country’s territory. But this definition does not satisfy our friends. They want to identify not those responsible for sporadic shootings from the separatist side and the killing of Georgian peacekeepers and civilians, but the authors of the attack on Tskhinvali. President Saakashvili has taken responsibility for entering Tskhinvali but does not consider this as the beginning of the war. He claims to have taken the decision due to the large number of Russian troops entering Georgia from the Roki Tunnel, as the population of the region needed to be protected from a possible genocide of ethnic Georgians and evacuations needed to be organised. This answer however raises further questions. The limited evacuation undertaken was very chaotic, disorganized and hectic. It is odd to consider that this was the best Georgia could do if it gone into South Ossetia with that intention.

Many questions arise about the supposed unexpectedness of the Russian attack, mentioned by several of those questioned by the Commission. Saakashvili himself said that way back in February Putin had almost threatened him with war. Later Moscow reinforced its forces in Abkhazia and military railway engineers reconstructed the tracks in Abkhazia. Many analysts openly advertised a possible military intervention from Moscow. Early in the summer the Russian 58th army carried out training exercises in the North Caucasus where the virtual enemy of Russian troops were styled ‘Saakashists.’ Russian warplanes entered Georgian air space. What was our intelligence service doing while all this was going on? Does it ever read the newspapers or watch TV?

On the one side the President claims he was warned by US Secretary of State Rice not to fall into a Russian trap. Therefore the Americans expected such traps. On the other hand Saakashvili stated that Russian intervention was not expected by the Americans. What sort of trap was America warning Saakashvili about therefore? We can only hope the Commission’s report comes up with an answer which never emerged during questioning, and can quote facts to justify its conclusions.

There are controversies about the conduct of General Mamuka Kurashvili, who declared late on August 7 that Georgia had intervened to restore constitutional order in the breakaway Tskhinvali region. Saakashvili criticized his conduct before the Commission, but was much more critical towards former Georgian Ambassador to Russia Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who had given evidence to the Commission which contradicted other testimony.

Overall the general impression left by the Commission hearings was that no major mistakes were made by the Georgian leadership. Everything was done in the way the situation dictated. War became inevitable. Tbilisi could not avoid it and it acted in the appropriate manner. Opponents of the Government, however, don’t agree. They think the Saakashvili administration almost destroyed the country’s statehood and thus should go. No mechanism, however, was presented which would secure such changes, at least not one the opposition is prepared to use.

People are at a loss, and concerned primarily with the threat of looking economic crisis, unemployment and poverty. It remains to be seen whether the Commission studying the August events will directly answer any question which has any relevance to the condition or interests of the Georgian population.