08TBILISI141, IRAKLI BATIASHVILI-BACK IN POLITICS?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI141 2008-01-30 13:56 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO4980
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0141/01 0301356
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 301356Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8754
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000141 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/30/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM GG
SUBJECT: IRAKLI BATIASHVILI-BACK IN POLITICS? 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1.  (C)  In a January 29 meeting with Poloffs, Irakli 
Batiashvili, recently amnestied from Georgian prison on 
January 11, said that he sees his role as a coordinating 
force for the opposition prior to the Parliamentary 
elections, although he has not decided where in the spectrum 
of the opposition parties that he lies. He said that the 
tapes which were used during his trial as evidence of his 
cooperation with rebels in the Kodori Valley were doctored, 
and could present the tapes and the text in its entirety to 
demonstrate this point.  Batiashvili underscored his close 
working relationship with the U.S. government during the 90's 
when he was the Head of the State Security Service and was 
seeking positive dialogue with post to prevent, what he 
alleged was fraud during the Presidential elections. 
Batiashvili portrayed the Saakashvili administration as 
authoritarian, pointing to eavesdropping on private citizens, 
illegal expropriation of property, and failure to engage with 
civil society or other actors.  He assessed that 
anti-Americanism would continue as long as Saakashvili was 
president, although he expressed deep appreciation and for 
the U.S. contributions during Georgia's darkest moments. 
Batiashvili was not surprised that the Public Defender did 
not consider him a political prisoner, saying the Public 
Defender was a government employee and although he may have 
thought differently personally, publicly he could not say 
otherwise.  He was aware that Amnesty International and Human 
Rights Watch had expressed interest in his case and would 
feature information about him in their annual reports, but 
was unsure if they considered him a political prisoner. 
Batiashvili agreed that an opposition lead deadlock in 
Parliament wouldn't be beneficial to anyone, and expressed 
his interest in working on territorial integrity, NATO entry, 
and prevention of terrorism as nonpartisan issues that both 
sides could agree on. End Summary. 
 
The Man and his Past 
-------------------- 
 
2.  (C)  Batiashvili introduced himself by citing his work as 
a dissident in the 80's and his involvement with the National 
Liberty Movement to fight for Georgia's independence against 
the Soviet totalitarian empire.  During the Shevardnadze 
period, he was appointed Head of the State Security Forces, 
and described his relationship then with the U.S. as a close 
and productive one.  He went on to talk about the reform of 
the Georgian intelligence services and his role in revamping 
aged tactics and weaponry through the U.S. train and equip 
program.  Batiashvili said as a result of this collaboration, 
the elite Omega "spetznaz" Unit was created.  (Comment:  He 
most likely is referring to paramilitary forces which were 
assigned to the State Security Service.  End Comment.) 
Batiashvili portrayed himself as a strong proponent of NATO, 
citing his subsequent advocacy work with the Georgian 
Parliament to oversee Georgia's movement toward NATO. 
Batiashvili described the Abkhazia war as a very difficult 
time in Georgia's history, but as a result of this time, he 
established contacts within the Kodori Valley.  These are the 
same contacts, he maintains, that he was in communication 
with when he was arrested. 
 
His Trial and Tribulations 
-------------------------- 
 
3.  (C)  Batiashvili said that his arrest and imprisonment 
were not legal and that Georgian society knew this.  He 
described his contact with Enzar Kvitsiani in the Kodori 
Valley which led to his arrest as an attempt to find a 
peaceful solution to a difficult problem.  Batiashvili said 
during the 90's, he often made trips to the region, and knew 
the people and the situation there very well.  It would not 
have been unusual, he contended, to meet and talk with 
figures in seeking a peaceful solution.  Batiashvili was 
against using the army in the Kodori Gorge from the 
beginning, and if more moderate forces had prevailed (he 
stated Burjanadze) then mediation would have diffused the 
situation quite quickly.  He went on to say that the tapes 
which were used against him in his trial were doctored, and 
that the government admitted as much in an official letter to 
him.  Batiashvili expressed willingness to produce the tapes 
and transcripts of the five conversations in their entirety 
should Post want to review them.   He said that prison 
authorities and other prisoners never harmed or abused him 
while he was incarcerated, as they had respect for him. 
Batiashvili stated that all judicial proceedings with his 
case are finished.  He was initially sentenced to 24 years, 
under two different articles, and several times he had been 
offered a plea bargains and other deals, which he steadfastly 
refused. 
 
 
TBILISI 00000141  002 OF 002 
 
 
4.  (C)  Batiashvili respected the Public Defender and 
appreciated his efforts on his behalf.  He was not surprised 
that the Public Defender did not consider him a political 
prisoner, saying how could a government employee publicly say 
otherwise.  Batiashv
ili was aware that Human Rights Watch and 
Amnesty International was studying his cases, but was not 
aware at this point whether they classified him a political 
prisoner. Upon his release, he said the Georgian Patriarch, 
and Nino Burjanadze asked him not to attend the opposition 
protest on January 13, but said not to have would have looked 
like fear and attended anyway.  Batiashvili described his 
reception at the protest as unexpectedly warm and supportive. 
 
His Current Role 
---------------- 
 
5.  (C)  While Batiashvili would not confirm that he was 
running for office in the Parliamentary Elections, he saw his 
raison d'etre as a coordinating force for the United 
Opposition.  He attributes his activism to a deep seated 
skepticism of the Saakashvili regime and portrayed it as 
authoritarian, asserting the government's tapping of 
telephones as something indicative of a totalitarian regime 
afraid to lose its grip on power. He said incidents of phone 
tapping and kidnapping (he cited Koba Davitashvili 
specifically) instill a sense of fear in the populace and in 
this culture of intimidation, democracy cannot flourish. 
Batiashvili said that the spring would be tense in Tbilisi, 
due to elections and that in general, spring "is an emotional 
time for Georgians."  If 100,000 people showed up to protest 
in November, he speculated with warmer weather and milder 
conditions, would this mean 300,000 people would turn out? 
Batiashvili said he has no desire for another revolution and 
wants the Parliamentary Elections to be conducted in a 
peaceful atmosphere. 
 
Anti-Americanism-Tied to Saakashvili 
------------------------------------ 
 
6.  (C)  Batiashvili said that Anti-Americanism will continue 
as long as Saakashvili is president, and could possibly grow 
during his next five years in office.  He realized that the 
U.S. government position was the support of democracy as an 
institution, rather than an individual person or party, but 
some Georgians are ungrateful and have already forgotten what 
the U.S. has done to assist Georgia in its darkest hours. 
PolEcon Chief expressed appreciation for his comments but 
concern that the opposition does not fuel the 
anti-Americanism as a tool to increase its own popularity. 
Batiashvhili said this anti-American sentiment was not 
widespread among Georgians, who see their future as part of 
NATO and welcome U.S. assistance towards this end. 
 
His Future Plan 
--------------- 
 
7.  (C) PolEcon Chief encouraged Batiashvili to consider 
areas of mutual interest in which the opposition can work 
with the government, such as NATO integration.  She also 
cautioned on the importance of continuing reforms, even if a 
new Parliament has many more members of the opposition. 
Batiashvili agreed for Georgia to move ahead, both sides must 
forge a multi-party state. One of his biggest criticisms of 
the current government was the lack of a check on executive 
power.   Although there are large areas of disagreement 
between both sides, he did concede that three nonpartisan 
areas which could unite both groups were territorial 
integrity, fight against terrorism, and entry into NATO. He 
specifically noted that he appreciated the positive role of 
the U.S. in promoting dialogue to resolve the status of 
disputed territories, an issue which he considered close to 
his heart and for which he was ready to fight. 
 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
8.  (C)  Batiashvili considers himself a sharp, fit opponent 
of Saakashvili, and attributes his release to one of the 
opposition's initial demands to release political prisoners 
in November.  Behind the scenes, the Georgian Orthodox 
Patriarch, who depicts itself as apolitical, appears to have 
been influential in Batiashvili's release and political 
participation, indicating we believe the concern the 
Patriarch has about the actions of some radical elements that 
are coming out of the opposition. 
TEFFT

Wikileaks

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