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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI1100 2007-05-11 12:28 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #1100/01 1311228
O 111228Z MAY 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001100 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/10/2017 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4(b)&(d). 
1. (C) In a wide-ranging discussion of the separatist 
conflicts with the Ambassador May 9, Georgian Minister of 
Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili said Abkhaz de facto 
president Sergei Bagapsh has the mentality of a typical 
Soviet administrator, hopelessly afraid of making any 
decisions that entail risk or that might upset Moscow.  While 
Merabishvili declined to say whether Georgia would consider 
any overtures to the Abkhaz -- saying such political 
decisions are the province of President Saakashvili -- it is 
clear from Merabishvili's analysis that he doubts such 
initiatives will have any effect.  He said he does not know 
why the Abkhaz suddenly decided to release three Georgian 
students May 3, and expressed even more bewilderment over 
what the Russians had hoped to gain by the March 11 
helicopter attack on the Kodori Gorge.  On South Ossetia, 
Merabishvili said the pro-Georgian "alternative president" 
Dmitry Sanakoyev is steadily gaining popular support, and the 
Georgian government is working on a number of development 
projects in the Sanakoyev-controlled area.  End Summary. 
Back to the Brezhnev Era in Abkhazia 
2. (C) Merabishvili told Ambassador and DCM that he does not 
expect Bagapsh to order a "provocation" to heighten tensions, 
adding that it is clear that Bagapsh and most if not all of 
his Abkhaz associates have no information on the Kodori 
attack.  Merabishvili noted that Abkhaz "defense minister" 
Sultan Soslaniyev had resigned May 8, and said this 
underlines the dominant role of Anatoly Zaitsev, a Russian 
who serves as the Abkhaz military's "chief of staff." 
Merabishvili said Bagapsh is in full political control of 
Abkhazia -- dismissing rumors that de facto vice-president 
Khajimba may be able to constrain his actions -- but the 
problem is Bagapsh's personality.  Merabishvili described 
Bagapsh as having the mindset of a typical Brezhnev-era 
administrator, as well as a history of Soviet-style 
corruption in the energy business that also gives the 
Russians leverage over him.  Because of this, Merabishvili 
said, Bagapsh is unwilling to make unpopular decisions, to 
"break traditions," or to go against strong personalities 
like Zaitsev. 
3. (C) Asked by Ambassador and DCM what he thought of 
offering economic carrots to the Abkhaz, Merabishvili said 
this might be a good idea in ten to fifteen years, but given 
the current situation in Abkhazia it would produce no 
response -- and in fact might be harmful if it undercut the 
growing sense among the Abkhaz that they are being left 
behind as Georgia advances economically.  Merabishvili said 
that while Bagapsh puts on a better appearance in meetings 
with Western diplomats than his South Ossetian counterpart 
Kokoity, he is actually less willing to undertake actions on 
his own initiative; in classic Soviet style, Bagapsh talks at 
length but says nothing, carefully weighing his comments for 
the hidden tape recorder in the room.  Merabishvili said 
Bagapsh is in fact fairly disengaged from his work, drinking 
daily (the cause of his recent health problem) and leaving 
many issues to de facto prime minister Ankvab.  Given all 
this, Merabishvili said, Bagapsh is unwilling to meet with 
Saakashvili or to negotiate seriously with the Georgians, and 
would only do so if the Russians ordered it. 
4. (C) Merabishvili said he had not expected the Abkhaz to 
release the students arrested along the Enguri River in March 
when they did, even though the Georgians had been in contact 
with the Abkhaz through an intermediary from the Georgian 
region of Adjara.  He said his ministry had informed the 
Abkhaz that it could not control the actions of people in the 
Gali district if the students were not released, but he had 
not expected this to produce a quick response.  He speculated 
that Bagapsh may have sped up the release to get the issue 
out of the way before a visit from French diplomats. 
Russians at Sea 
5. (C) Merabishvili said it is clear the Russians do not know 
what to do in Abkhazia, or in their relations with Georgia 
generally.  He said Viktor Komogorov, a deputy head of the 
Russian FSB, had admitted to one of Merabishvili's deputies 
that the economic blockade had not hurt Georgia as much as 
the Russians expected.  Merabishvili said it was lucky that 
Georgia is experiencing such high economic growth, which 
blunts the blow of the Russian sanctions.  He said Komogorov 
had said that Russia would never recognize the independence 
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- "the current situation is 
the best for us -- we need all of Georgia" -- and he claimed 
TBILISI 00001100  002 OF 002 
to believe that Georgia would need only about six months of 
preparation to move from its Euroatlantic-oriented foreign 
policy to a Russian orientation.  Merabishvili said it was 
clear that Komogorov, whom he called the source of most ideas 
about Russia's Georgia policy, did not understand
the real 
situation in Georgia.  Merabishvili added that the Kodori 
attack was the least comprehensible decision he had ever 
encountered in his life.  He speculated that many Russian 
officials -- perhaps even Putin himself, he said with a laugh 
-- have no idea who in the Russian government had decided to 
launch the attack or why.  He said the Russians are 
continuing their espionage activities in Georgia as before. 
Progress in South Ossetia 
6. (C) Turning to South Ossetia, Merabishvili said 
Sanakoyev's popularity in the region increases every day; 
people no longer talk about whether he is a Georgian agent, 
but instead about whether he is good or bad.  He said 
Sanakoyev's team of ethnic Ossetians have excellent contacts 
in Tskhinvali, and through them the Georgians know about 
every important conversation in Tskhinvali soon after it 
happens -- something that has reduced the risk of "accidents" 
and "provocations."  He said the Georgian government is 
buying land to build houses for Sanakoyev officials in Kurta 
-- driving the price of land there higher than in exclusive 
parts of Tbilisi -- and also plans to build a hotel and 
restaurant in Kurta and a disco in Tamarasheni.  Merabishvili 
said that as Sanakoyev has come closer to becoming a 
legitimate official, his security situation has improved 
greatly; the Georgians now have no information about active 
plans to harm him, while six months ago five different groups 
were gathering information on how to kill him. 
7. (C) Commenting on the recent discovery of a shoulder-fired 
anti-aircraft missile in South Ossetia, Merabishvili said he 
understood that the de facto authorities have five such 
missiles left from a group of eight brought into the region 
two years ago.  He said that to prevent defections, the 
Russians had recently increased salaries of police officers 
and other officials in Tskhinvali, so that they now earn more 
than their counterparts in Georgian-controlled areas or in 
Vladikavkaz.  Merabishvili encouraged the Embassy to consider 
holding concerts and other cultural events in Kurta or along 
the dividing line in Tamarasheni, so that people from the 
Georgian enclave could easily attend. 
8. (C) Unfortunately, Merabishvili's pessimistic evaluation 
of Bagapsh may contain some truth.  While we often hear 
rumors that Bagapsh has new ideas and is interested in 
talking with the West, every time we travel to Abkhazia to 
meet him he offers nothing of substance.  Recently the Abkhaz 
have pulled out of two planned U.S.-sponsored study tours: a 
joint NATO tour with the Georgians (which a number of de 
facto officials were eager to join) and a humanitarian 
medical trip to Ukraine, organized by John Snow 
International, to learn techniques for care of newborns in 
hospitals.  Even South Ossetian doctors were able to 
participate in the latter program.  Both decisions suggest a 
regime fundamentally afraid to take chances. 
9. (C) Clearly Merabishvili is a major player in Georgian 
policy toward both conflicts.  He acknowledged that 
"pressing" the Abkhaz is a major part of Georgia's strategy, 
and we have no reason to doubt that President Saakashvili 
fully agrees.  At the same time, however, Merabishvili was 
unwilling to totally rule out new overtures to the Abkhaz, 
even though the logic of his argument suggests they would be 
useless.  For all Merabishvili's influence, his realm appears 
to stop here, with Saakashvili personally handling matters of 
diplomatic strategy. 


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