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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI808 2008-05-16 11:57 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #0808/01 1371157
R 161157Z MAY 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000808 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2018 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft, reason 1.4 (b) and (d). 
1. (C) Summary: EUR Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Bryza met 
on May 9 in Tbilisi with Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs 
(MOIA) Eka Zguladze and the Head of the MOIA Analytical 
Department, Shota Utiashvili.  On May 12, he met separately 
with Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili.  Bryza 
told Merabishvili and his deputies about his meetings with 
Abkhaz de facto officials and promoted the creation of a new 
negotiating forum to augment the existing Friends group.  He 
urged Merabishvili to be patient while a new format is being 
devised.  He warned that military action by Georgia will 
likely fail and cost Georgia not only its chance for NATO 
membership but also much of its support in Washington. 
Merabishvili was unconvinced that the Abkhaz will ever enter 
into serious negotiations, or that they can be dissuaded from 
a course that he believes will ultimately lead to their 
absorption into Russia.  Bryza focused his discussion with 
Zguladze on the upcoming May 21 parliamentary elections. 
Zguladze is a member of the government's interagency 
commission on elections, and explained the Ministry of 
Internal Affairs' efforts to ensure police and other local 
government officials do not pressure voters to vote for the 
ruling National Movement.  She said that recent amendments to 
the election law that allow release of only limited amounts 
of videotape to document alleged election-day misconduct, and 
that set deadlines for filing and considering 
election-related complaints are designed to ensure that 
election results are released without delay while providing 
adequate means to adjudicate misconduct.  End Summary. 
2. (C) In his meeting with Minister Merabishvili, Bryza 
described his May 10-11 visit to Sukhumi and his effort to 
convince the Abkhaz de facto government to agree to direct 
talks with the Georgian government.  He said that the 
Abkhazia peace process is now drifting, and some in Tbilisi 
viewed the only alternatives now as war or the complete loss 
of Abkhazia for Georgia, both of which would be a disaster 
for the Georgians.  Abkhaz de facto leaders moved beyond the 
polemics of de facto president Bagapsh,s demand that 
Georgian withdraw from the Kodori Gorge as a pre-condition 
for talks, Bryza said, and now appears interested in a real 
discussion of the issue.  Bryza said he was heartened by 
public statements by de facto foreign minister Shamba to 
Russian TV during their joint press conference in Sukhumi 
that the Abkhaz see the USG as a source of security and that 
during the meeting, the U.S. and Abkhazia explored options 
for re-starting direct Abkhaz-Georgia negotiations.   Shamba 
wants four things from the Georgians in the short run: 
removal of Georgian soldiers from Kodori Valley, a promise of 
non-resumption of hostilities, lifting of Georgia's economic 
sanctions against Abkhazia, and establishment of maritime 
transport links from Trabzon in Turkey to Sukhumi.  Shamba 
was vague about what the Abkhaz were willing to exchange for 
that, Bryza said.  He added that the Abkhaz seem to be 
increasingly worried about the ever-tightening grip of Russia 
on Abkhazia, especially the presence of more Russian troops 
and the increasing sales of land to Russian investors. 
3. (C) Merabishvili noted the presence of new, heavily armed 
Russian troops in Tkvarcheli and Ochamchira, which he said 
are providing psychological security for the Abkhaz, and 
which are not peacekeepers.  The troops are placed so as to 
block any attack by Georgian troops along the coastal highway 
and their presence violates the spirit of the Moscow 
agreements, if not the letter, Merabishvili said.  Bryza 
agreed their removal would be an important confidence 
building measure.  Of the 1000 new troops, Merabishvili said, 
400 are supply and logistics personnel.  But there are 
frequent visits by reconnaissance specialists from Russian 
units based in Russia, studying the situation in case the 
Russia-based units are deployed.  The 600 combat troops are 
paratroopers and possess ten armored personnel carriers and 
ten large mobile artillery.  The troops do not man 
checkpoints as peacekeepers normally do, but are based in 
large groups of 200-300.  Their visible activity gives the 
Abkhaz a feeling of military superiority and detracts from 
their willingness to negotiate, he said. 
--------------------------------------------- - 
4. (C) Bryza suggested that feelings of insecurity are what 
have been keeping the Abkhaz from negotiating.  He added that 
his experience in Sukhumi was that the Abkhaz are concerned 
about the increasing influence of Russia in the breakaway 
region, which could be exploited to create new room for 
TBILISI 00000808  002 OF 003 
negotiations.  Merabishvili disagreed.  He said that the 
Abkhaz are happy to have the employment opportunities 
increasing Russian investment brings.
Even if many ordinary 
people fear too much Russian investment, there are only 100 
to 200 people in Abkhazia who make decisions.  If those 
individuals gain opportunities, they will be happy, which is 
all that counts, Merabishvili insisted.  According to 
Merabishvili, many Abkhaz have friends in Russia and young 
Abkhaz dream about studying in Moscow, not Paris or London. 
Only a major economic downturn in Russia could bring about 
change, he said.  Bryza countered that Georgian policy keeps 
the Abkhaz population isolated and pushes them into the arms 
of Russia.  He encouraged Merabishvili to explore opening 
transport links and development projects.  The Abkhaz know 
they get no humanitarian or development assistance from 
Russia, he added. 
5. (C) Bryza told Merabishvili that the United States will 
work with its allies to resist and roll back Russia's 
provocative actions, which are alienating the Europeans and 
gaining Georgia support from them.  He said UNOMIG chief Jean 
Arnault had conceded it was time to find an alternative to 
the Friends group, which is essentially a broken mechanism. 
De facto president Bagapsh had suggested to him the 
possibility of Georgian and Abkhaz meetings where the U.S. 
and the Russians would be present as guarantors. 
Merabishvili doubted whether such a new forum was possible. 
The Abkhaz have decided their fate is with the Russians, he 
said, and predicted that in 10 years the region will be 
absorbed into Russia.  Merabishvili said he believes the 
Abkhaz are content with that.  Russia is becoming more 
developed and an easier place to do business, and Georgia 
can't develop fast enough to compete.  It will be hard to 
change the Abkhaz attitude, and no Abkhaz will be willing to 
admit he wants the region to rejoin Georgia, he concluded. 
Bryza once again said that the Abkhaz now have no other 
option than Russia.  Georgia can provide an alternative 
through a real negotiation supported by the international 
community, Bryza said.  Merabishvili doubted that any Abkhaz 
official would meet with the Georgians, and said that in any 
event the Abkhaz are not ready to offer any concessions.  He 
speculated that if Russia thinks the U.S. and Europe are not 
determined to resist, they will lose all fear and take direct 
action to incorporate Abkhazia.  As the meeting closed, Bryza 
warned Merabishvili that war is a bad option for Georgia, and 
will destroy any chance for the country to enter NATO as well 
as cost it valuable support in Washington and European 
capitals.  He asked Merabishvili to be open to a new strategy 
of negotiations. Merabishvili agreed to remain open. 
6. (C) DAS Bryza also used his earlier meeting with Zguladze 
and Utiashvili to press them to support a new negotiating 
format.  Utiashvili was more willing than Merabishvili to 
admit that there is concern among the Abkhaz about increasing 
Russian influence.  However, he did not see much willingness 
on the part of the Abkhaz leadership to make trouble for 
themselves by changing direction against the wishes of 
7. (C) Merabishvili confirmed that the Abkhaz had shot down a 
Georgian UAV on May 12 with a ground-based SS-11 missile. 
However, he said, the Georgian government intended to deny 
the incident entirely in order to keep the situation calm in 
the run-up to elections.  He refused to speculate about 
whether the UAV overflights are a violation of any 
international agreements relating to Abkhazia. 
8. (C) At the May 10 meeting, DAS Bryza told Zguladze that 
although the early reports about the course of the election 
campaign had suggested it was fairer than the presidential 
elections in January, lately he had been hearing about 
pressure on companies from the financial police and on 
teachers from their school administrators to support the 
National Movement with money and votes.  Zguladze responded 
that teachers are being targeted by the opposition for 
support because they are economically vulnerable, and the 
National Movement is also trying to reach them in its 
campaign.  She said that no hard facts have been presented to 
support pressure on teachers to vote for the National 
Movement.  However, the Ministry is looking for a major case 
to prosecute in order to send an appropriate "hands off" 
message.  She noted that one candidate was recently removed 
from the National Movement's party list due to inappropriate 
campaign tactics among teachers.  Moreover, the government 
TBILISI 00000808  003 OF 003 
has sent a message to all levels of the police, schools and 
other local government entities not to misuse their positions 
politically.  Zguladze said that Georgian society is still 
very hierarchical and will heed such warnings.  It is still 
up to governors to monitor the diverse groups and ensure 
compliance.  Zguladze said that the Ministry of Interior has 
initiated eight criminal cases based on election day behavior 
during the presidential campaign.  Four cases have gone to 
court and two individuals have been sentenced, she said. 
9. (C) Bryza told Zguladze that opposition politicians are 
concerned about a provision in the new election law that 
allows persons who allege misconduct to review only fifteen 
minutes of videotape from polling place cameras before and 
after the time of the alleged incident.  They contend that 
this is an intentional restriction of the opposition's 
ability to obtain redress for irregularities.  Zguladze 
responded that the videotaping system was never intended to 
provide an alternate means of counting votes, but rather is a 
source of evidence for specific problems.  In the first 
place, she noted, no other country she knew of provides such 
a safeguard at all.  She said that after the presidential 
elections the ombudsman had reviewed the tapes from at least 
one precinct fully, counted the number of voters entering and 
alleged that the number of votes cast was larger than that 
number.  Zguladze said that once voters from a special 
precinct (in most cases soldiers from nearby military bases) 
that was included in the precinct's total were counted, the 
numbers matched.  The government's objective is to speed the 
vote count, she said, and allowing review of the whole day's 
tapes, in an effort to spot violations, would delay the final 
vote tally indefinitely and would not contribute to the 
democratic process. 
10. (C) For similar reasons, she said, strict time 
limitations for filing and considering vote challenges have 
been enacted.  Limitations such as this can seem wrong if 
taken out of context, but the government's goal is to have 
the results of the elections settled and released as soon as 
possible.  At the same time, the new law gives complainants 
an opportunity they did not have before to correct technical 
deficiencies in their complaints, so they are more likely to 
be considered on their meri
ts.  DAS Bryza asked Zguladze why 
she did not go on television herself and make the case 
supporting the government's approach, since she seemed to 
have a reasonable explanation for every issue raised by the 
opposition.  Zguladze declined, saying that she does not want 
to politicize her office.  In her opinion, Parliament and the 
Central Election Commission are the right entities to explain 
the rules and the reasons for them, and have done a good job 
of it so far. 
11. (C) In the May 12 meeting with DAS Bryza, Minister 
Merabishvili insisted that the May 21 elections will be 
fairer and that no real case of police misconduct in the 
pre-election period has been alleged.  He claimed that the 
opposition has plans to cause civil disturbances after the 
elections, whatever the results, and the government will 
respond with the extent of force allowed by law.  He has 
instructed law enforcement not to react to minor provocations 
in the pre-election period, however, such as an attempt by 
the opposition to nail up the doors of the Central Election 
Commission Chairman's office on May 1. 
12. (C) Comment: Merabishvili is among the most hawkish on 
Abkhaz issues of President Saakashvili's advisors.  His 
despair about the deepening alliance between the Abkhaz and 
the Russians, and the unlikelihood of success in direct 
talks, reflects the views of other more hard-line advisors. 
DAS Bryza's conversation with Merabishvili points up the 
importance of a firm stance against what is seen as Russia's 
"creeping annexation" of Abkhazia and continued diplomacy to 
create a viable forum for negotiations.  Both efforts require 
active participation by the Europeans -- and not only by 
Georgia's natural allies among the new members of the 
European Union, but also among the French, Germans and others. 
13. (U) DAS Bryza has cleared this telegram. 


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