Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Georgian Government To Probe August 2008 War

Published in Field Reports

by Eka Janashia (04/17/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The Georgian Government has declared its intention to revisit the investigation of the war in August 2008. The renewed process envisages interrogations of President Mikheil Saakashvili and other high ranking government officials. The Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) labeled the government’s decision an attempt to undermine Georgia’s national interests.

 Georgia’s Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani stated on April 8 that the prosecutor’s office would investigate allegations related to the August war, drawing upon the complaints filed by citizens and non-governmental organizations from various countries at the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in Hague. The complaints suggest that war crimes were committed during the war, and that the investigation of such crimes includes questioning officials regardless of their citizenship and ethnic origins, she said. Tsulukiani also stressed that since Georgia is a signatory to the Rome statute – the founding document of the ICC – it has to conduct the investigation, but at local level without hearings at the international tribunal.

With reference to the minister’s statement, PM Ivanishvili unveiled two important remarks on the August war at a press conference on April 10. He said that Saakashvili’s government did not have sufficient reasons to deploy forces to South Ossetia on August 8 as “tensions and shootings … in the conflict zone … were not serious enough to require large-scale involvement of Georgian troops.” Further, Ivanishvili proclaimed that “it was unjustifiable to start military actions before Russian [troops] crossed into Georgian borders,” suggesting that the Georgian side launched the war. Ivanishvili’s statement caused considerable reactions among the Georgian public, compelling the PM to assert that he had “never stated that Georgia was the aggressor and that Georgia started the war.” His written statement, released on April 12 reads: “our army has not … intruded into another country’s territory.”

Saakashvili offered a strong condemnation of Ivanishvili’s statement: “Not a single official in the world, except of Russian officials and except of Hugo Chavez, has ever accused Georgia of … launching the war,” the president said and pledged that he would never cooperate “with an anti-state investigation aiming to undercut Georgia’s statehood and its national interests.”

The Prosecutor’s Office of the ICC started a “preliminary examination” shortly after the August war. During the examination, it maintained communication with Georgian and Russian authorities, urging both sides to pursue their respective investigations into alleged war crimes. To this end, ICC representatives visited both countries several times and in November 2012 released a Report on Preliminary Examination Activities. The report states that “the alleged intentional directing of attacks against Russian peacekeepers, has to date proved inconclusive.” Kakha Lomaia, the former Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia, stated on Rustavi 2 talk show Position that this is an important declaration verifying that Georgian artillery had in fact not attacked Russian peacekeepers, an allegation used by Moscow to justify its intervention.

Lomaia argued further that Georgia has been providing trustworthy evidence to the ICC for years, which provided a basis for inserting such an important declaration in the report, though it was impossible to submit additional materials since Georgia’s Prosecutor office did not have access to the war scene in occupied South Ossetia and could not interrogate high military Russian officials. Lomaia also quoted evidence presented in the respective reports produced by an independent commission led by the Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, the Prosecutor Office of Georgia, and the Investigative Commission of the Georgian Parliament, of crimes committed by separatists and Russian forces on Georgian territory during the 5-day war and stressed that any shift in the overall picture outlined by those reports would definitely unleash a process of disintegration in Georgia.

Nevertheless, PM Ivanishvili insists that many war-related questions remain unresolved and require answers. Among them, the most important issues are why Saakashvili could not evade an obvious provocation plotted by Kremlin; what mistakes were made by the supreme commander and high ranking officials during the pursuit of military operations that caused chaos, disorder and a large number of casualties among the civilian population. In addition, Ivanishvili does not believe that a probe will damage Georgia’s international image: “We should live with the truth and … clarify what happened,” he said.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Russian-language RTVi channel on April 9, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov greeted the new Georgian government’s “pragmatic” approach towards Georgian-Russian relations. Many in Georgia connected this statement to the new initiative, further encouraging speculation over Ivanishvili’s possible linkages with Moscow.

Discussions on the August 2008 war have gained new momentum in Georgia. Beyond the official motivations for a renewed investigation, however, it also seems intended to damage the reputation of Saakashvili and the UNM. It is also politically timely in light of the UNM’s planned protest rally scheduled for April 19 in Tbilisi.

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