Izvestia claimed to have obtained a report addressed to the Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs (MIA) Irakli Garibashvili from the Chief of the Georgian MIA’s Counter-Intelligence Department Gregory Chanturia, stating that Tamerlan Tsarnayev, one of the plotters of the Boston bombings, was trained by Georgian Specials Services through the Georgian NGO Caucasus Fund (CF) in cooperation with the Washington-based think tank Jamestown Foundation.
According to Izvestia, in the summer of 2012, Tsarnayev attended one of the seminars that the CF and the Jamestown Foundation have regularly organized for young Caucasians since 2008. The Russian newspaper asserted that the MIA’s Special Services used such seminars and workshops to recruit North Caucasian youth willing to fight Russian imperialism and promote Georgia’s anti-Kremlin policies. Izvestia claims that although the CF’s proclaimed mission is to promote peace and cooperation among Caucasus peoples via cultural and sports events, it in fact aimed to trigger instability and extremism in the region.
The MIA rejected the accusations declaring that the ministry had never had an employee named Gregory Chanturia. Likewise, representatives of the CF and Jamestown Foundation denied the charges and denounced Izvestia’s allegations as slanderous nonsense.
Whereas such assertions might have been anticipated from Russian media, similar allusions expressed by Georgia’s Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili prompted confusion among analysts as well as the Georgian public. In an interview with Rustavi 2 TV on April 26, Ivanishvili commented on allegations put forward by Georgia’s Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, concerning the Lapankuri operation in August, 2012, which resulted in the death of eleven militants and three Georgian troops (see the 9/5/2012 issue of the CACI Analyst). “There are suspicions about [the former government] cooperating with militants and terrorists and it will be shocking for me if these allegations are confirmed,” Ivanishvili said.
On April 1, in his annual report on the human rights situation in the country, Nanuashvili expressed suspicions that the militant group involved in the clash was recruited, armed and trained by the MIA under the auspices of Vano Merabishvili, former PM and current Secretary General of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party. Nanuashvili insisted that the circumstances disclosed to him seemingly contested the official version of the events and called on the Parliament to form an ad hoc investigative commission to look into the case.
Relying on information and findings provided by a “confidential source” and relatives of the killed militants, the public defender’s report reads that in February 2012, MIA senior officials convinced “veterans of the Chechen war” living in Europe that Georgian authorities would ensure free passage – a so called “corridor” – for them to infiltrate into Russia’s North Caucasus via Georgia. Following the proposal, 120 Chechens and other natives of the North Caucasus were said to have arrived in Georgia and to have undergone training at the Vaziani and Shavnabada military bases, the report states. “I suspect that what the ombudsman was talking about is true, but I will refrain from [further comments],” Ivanishvili said and added that if Georgia’s new government could probe these allegations while simultaneously distancing itself from such actions, it might benefit the country and not damage Georgia’s image.
Responding to Ivanishvili’s remarks, President Mikheil Saakashvili said that his statements were extremely alarming in light of the Boston terrorist acts and very similar to Kremlin propaganda aiming to weaken Georgia and leave it defenseless in the face of occupation and foreign threats.
On April 19, roughly seven months after its defeat in the October parliamentary elections, the UNM led by Saakashvili held a rally attended by thousands of its supporters to support a maintained pro-western foreign policy. The rally aimed to demonstrate the party’s continuity and its capability to mobilize people in large rallies. The UNM declared the birth of a “new national movement” in an attempt to rebrand itself as a political force which is truly in service of the country’s national interests. Consequently, Ivanishvili’s statements on the reopened investigation of both the August war and the Lapankuri operation may accidentally contribute to the UNM popularity.
Nevertheless, according to a March survey released by the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC), the Georgian Dream Coalition (GD) maintains strong support among the public and Ivanishvili was rated to be performing either “very well” or “well” by 63 percent of the respondents in total. However, given the continuity of acute social problems in Georgia, the GD’s popularity could decline gradually. In this regard, the PM’s performance in areas such as job creation and poverty reduction were respectively assessed by 29 percent and 26 percent of the respondents as either “bad” or “very bad.”