Some news items about events in and around Georgia during the last week which have attracted less attention than they deserve:
SAAKASHVILI DEFENDS HIS RECORD AT HEARING. For five hours on November 27, President Mikhail Saakashvili defended his actions to a parliamentary commission looking into the Russian-Georgian war. He said that Putin had seemed to be “threatening” Georgia with war as early as February 2008, that he had told Western governments that Tbilisi would respond militarily if Russian forces engaged in “targeting our civilians,” that he had asked Western governments to intervene with Moscow, and that he had not demanded that the Russian peacekeepers be withdrawn because the West would have viewed that as “a provocative act.” In other comments, he said that Georgia has not yet been defeated, and he said that former Georgian ambassador to Moscow Erosi Kitsmarishvili’s statements should be dismissed as complete inventions. Asked why he had appointed him to Moscow, Saakashvili responded “We all make mistakes” (www.parliament.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&sec_id=1329&info_id=21452).
FORMER GEORGIAN AMBASSADOR TO MOSCOW DISPUTES HIS ACCOUNT … Erosi Kitsmarishvili, the founder of the Rustavi-2 television center who recently resigned as Georgia’s ambassador to the Russian Federation, said that Saakashvili planned invading Abkhazia last spring, was behind the actions that led Russia to intervene in South Ossetia in August, and must bear full responsibility for Georgia’s losses as a result (www.apsny.ge/articles/1227679651.php and www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/11/25/srochno/383015/).
… AS DOES FORMER BORDER GUARDS CHIEF. Badri Bitsadze, the former head of the Georgian border police and husband of former Parliament head Nino Burjanadze, said Saakashvili had made the decision to send forces into South Ossetia without receiving any “green light from any foreign country” because at that time the Georgian president “was listening only to those people who agreed with him,” a Georgian newspaper reported on November 29
BURJANADZE ORGANIZES NEW OPPOSITION PARTY. Nino Burjanadze has organized a new political party, the Democratic Movement-United Georgia. Its goals include the replacement of Saakashvili as president, the restoration of the territorial integrity of Georgia, and the pursuit of integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions (www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=22011).
INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP SAYS SAAKASHVILI IN TROUBLE. In a detailed study released on November 26, the widely respected non-governmental ICG said that the Georgian president is in deep political trouble and that his country faces an extraordinarily difficult winter (www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/europe/caucasus/b51_georgia___the_risks_of_winter.pdf).
WEST NO LONGER BACKS SAAKASHVILI, ROGOZIN SAYS. Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow’s outspoken representative at NATO, said that his conversations with Western diplomats have convinced him that the West is no longer behind Saakashvili and that “the Washington obkom” has already vetted Burjanadze as his successor (www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=228006&cid=1). Whether he said this because it is true or because he wants to cause trouble in Tbilisi and elsewhere is uncertain.
SAAKASHVILI ADMITS ROSE REVOLUTION HASN’T DELIVERED ON PROMISES. Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the Rose Revolution that brought him to power, President Mikhail Saakashvili said that event had “not met all of [our] expectations and hopes” but that the struggle to realize them “will continue.” He suggested that one of the reasons for the shortfalls was that Georgia has become “the major target of the world’s largest aggressor, the huge evil empire” (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20007).
CARS CARRYING GEORGIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS FIRED UPON NEAR SOUTH OSSETIAN BORDER. A caravan carrying Saakashvili and visiting Polish President Lech Kaczynski was fired upon near the border with South Ossetia, leading to charges and countercharges that the Ossetians were behind this action (the Georgian view) or that he Georgians had done it themselves as a provocation (Moscow’s position). Neither man was injured (podrobnosti.ua/accidents/2008/11/23/567920.html).
TBILISI DENIES MOSCOW’S CLAIM THAT FOREIGN MERCENARIES FOUGHT FOR GEORGIA. Aleksandr Bastrykin, the chief investigator of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, said that he had determined that “a group of American, Czech, Turkish, Ukrainian and Chechen mercenaries” fought on the Georgian side (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20018). Georgian officials have denounced this as absurd (www.rosbalt.ru/2008/11/23/544130.html).
EUROPEAN COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE CAUSES OF GEORGIAN WAR. Heidi Talyavini, a Swiss expert who has worked in the Caucasus since 1995 for the OSCE, the United Nations and the European Union, will head the international commission investigating who caused the war in Georgia (www.ng.ru/politics/2008-11-25/1_trap.html?mthree=1). Most observers expect that she and the commission will conclude that both Moscow and Tbilisi bear some responsibility for the conflict.
ABKHAZIA WANTS UN OBSERVERS, NOT JUST RUSSIAN TROOPS… According to the ICG report, some Abkhazian officials have told Western diplomats “privately” that they want UN observers to remain in their republic “in some capacity so they are not left solely with Russian troops,” an indication that relations between Abkhazians and Russians may be deteriorating (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20042).
…AS RUMORS CIRCULATE MOSCOW WANTS NEW GOVERNMENT IN SUKHUMI. Meanwhile, the Pirveli news agency reports, some in Abkhazia fear that Moscow will try to replace the current leadership of their republic, with whom the Russian government has not always gotten along, with people more cooperative from its point of view, as it has already been trying to do (abkhazeti.info/news/1227829374.php).
SOUTH OSSETIA TO USE SOVIET-ERA BORDERS, HAVE VISA REGIME WITH GEORGIA. The government of South Ossetia has announced that it considers the borders of that republic drawn in Soviet times to be the only legitimate ones, that it will work to demarcate them over the next several months, and that it plans to introduce a visa regime for Georgians who want to visit the republic (kvkz.ru/knews/os/1997-juzhnaja-osetija-vernetsja-k-sovetskim-granicam-s.html).
RUSSIAN BASES IN BREAKAWAY STATES TO BE EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE. Moscow officials say that it will cost 10 to 12 billion rubles (400 to 480 million U.S. dollars) to build the bases it has announced it will open or expand in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and that construction will take several years once it begins in 2009 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1234156.html). Meanwhile, Russian soldiers stationed there are living in tents and complaining about it (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1234101.html).