07TBILISI1605, MERABISHVILI ON WHAT’S NEXT IN SOUTH OSSETIA

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI1605 2007-07-06 11:40 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO4991
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1605/01 1871140
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 061140Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6905
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001605 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR DAS BRYZA & EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/06/2017 
TAGS: PGOV PREL GG
SUBJECT: MERABISHVILI ON WHAT'S NEXT IN SOUTH OSSETIA 
 
REF: TBILISI 1562 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4(b)&(d). 
 
Summary 
------- 
1. (C) Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs Vano 
Merabishvili told the Ambassador July 5 that while he thought 
tensions would continue in South Ossetia, he did not expect a 
major escalation.  He said the Georgians hoped to be able to 
recruit a number of prominent de facto officials at the 
"deputy minister" level to jump ship and join the temporary 
administrative unit of Dmitry Sanakoyev.  He said de facto 
leader Eduard Kokoity was aware that his position was 
eroding, but Merabishvili expressed doubt that Kokoity had 
the ability to carry out a major provocation, both because of 
the controlling presence of Russian FSB officers in his 
administration, and because South Ossetian militia would be 
reluctant to get into an overly bloody fight with the 
Georgians.  The Ambassador stressed the importance of giving 
Sanakoyev real autonomy and sufficient time to build his 
local base of support.  Merabishvili expressed disappointment 
that Sochi had won the 2014 Winter Olympics, predicting this 
would lead to a greater Russian financial stake in Abkhazia. 
End Summary. 
 
South Ossetia Simmering, Not Boiling Over 
----------------------------------------- 
2. (C) Merabishvili told the Ambassador in a lunch meeting 
that tensions were likely to continue in South Ossetia, 
stoked by such things as a recent Russian shipment to the de 
facto authorities of mobile artillery and other equipment, 
including one additional GRAD missile.  Merabishvili said he 
was highly skeptical of efforts to cut a Russian-Georgian 
deal to resolve the conflict, because he did not believe the 
Russians wanted to change the status quo.  While 
acknowledging that a number of points of tension had arisen 
recently in South Ossetia, Merabishvili said he did not 
believe the situation would escalate out of control, in part 
because the Russian FSB ran things in South Ossetia through 
its officers in high positions in Tskhinvali.  He added that 
Kokoity's first preference might be an all-out war, even one 
that the Georgians won, because that would assure him a 
comfortable future in Russia.  But Merabishvili did not think 
Kokoity was strong enough to carry out a major escalation, 
such as the killing of a large number of Georgians.  He said 
South Ossetian forces were averse to fatalities, and it would 
be hard to convince them to carry out extreme orders. 
 
3. (C) Merabishvili said Sanakoyev's position was 
strengthening daily, and he pointed to Sanakoyev's recent 
speech in Brussels (reftel) as an important step -- something 
the de facto authorities implicitly acknowledged when they 
shut off power in Tskhinvali in a laughable attempt to 
suppress news of the speech.  He said Sanakoyev and the 
Georgians were appealing to influential figures in the de 
facto administration -- mostly deputy ministers since the 
ministers are Russians -- to join Sanakoyev's team.  He said 
that many were interested, despite intense pressure from the 
FSB to prevent them from switching.  Merabishvili said that 
there was a good chance -- although he could "not say a 50-50 
chance" -- that a sizable number of officials would switch 
sides soon.  He said that if given a free choice, the 
majority of South Ossetians would go with Sanakoyev. 
 
4. (C) The Ambassador asked how plans were going for 
consultations between the Georgians and Sanakoyev on the 
details of autonomy, and Merabishvili said the plans remained 
unchanged but there was currently some dispute within the 
Georgian government about which ministry -- Merabishvili's 
and/or others -- should have the lead on consultations. 
Merabishvili said that unfortunately the Ministry of Internal 
Affairs was still serving as the intermediary between 
Sanakoyev and others both in and out of the government, but 
he hoped to encourage the development of direct relationships 
between Sanakoyev and other ministries.  Merabishvili added 
that Jemal Karkusov, Minister of Internal Affairs of 
Sanakoyev's administrative unit, had gone along on 
Merabishvili's recent trip to Lithuania.  He said Karkusov 
had been overwhelmed by the welcome he had received from the 
Lithuanian government, far better than the humiliating 
treatment Karkusov had received in Moscow during his time as 
de facto minister of internal affairs in Tskhinvali.  The 
Ambassador stressed that Sanakoyev would benefit politically 
from a specific identification of the powers held by his 
administrative unit, and from sufficient time to build his 
support with the population. 
 
From Russia with Cash 
--------------------- 
5. (C) Turning to Abkhazia, Merabishvili said he personally 
 
TBILISI 00001605  002 OF 002 
 
 
did not believe Russia would recognize the independence of 
Abkhazia, explaining that Russia's interests are best served 
by the status quo.  He said that the awarding of the 2014 
Winter Olympics to Sochi -- announced less than a day before 
-- was unwelcome news to the Georgians.  Merabishvili said he 
understood Russia had spent
into the billions of dollars in 
various countries to win support for Sochi's bid.  He 
predicted that the Olympics would drive up property values 
around Sochi, leading more Russians to buy land and to invest 
in neighboring Abkhazia.  He said this would have negative 
consequences for Georgia over time, because such financial 
interests often played a key role in determining Russian 
policies.  (Note: Merabishvili's private comments contrast 
with public statements by Saakashvili, made both before and 
after the Olympic decision, expressing Georgian support for 
Sochi's bid.  End Note.) 
 
Comment 
------- 
6. (C) As in previous conversations, Merabishvili gave an 
upbeat assessment of the growth of Sanakoyev's popularity in 
South Ossetia.  We have heard markedly different assessments 
on this subject from others with connections in South 
Ossetia, and it is difficult to determine the truth in the 
rigidly controlled environment in Tskhinvali.  Some (but not 
all) OSCE Mission members are convinced that most South 
Ossetians see Sanakoyev as a traitor, and that this 
perception has been reinforced by the recent tensions over 
water, roads, and sniper fire between the two sides.  Former 
Georgian Defense Minister Okruashvili, an old rival of 
Merabishvili's with little use for the Sanakoyev project, 
recently told the Ambassador that the Georgians had "failed" 
in their efforts to bring prominent members of the de facto 
government over to Sanakoyev's side.  Merabishvili clearly 
remains hopeful that key de facto officials will defect, and 
the outcome of this recruitment process may be a useful 
measure of which way the tide is turning. 
 
TEFFT

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