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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI1387 2008-08-18 14:36 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #1387/01 2311436
P 181436Z AUG 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001387 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/16/2018 
 1.  (C)  Begin Summary: On August 14, Minister of Internal 
Affairs (MOIA) Vano Merabishvili spoke with DAS Bryza and the 
Ambassador Tefft about the current situation following 
Russia's invasion, the status of Georgian troops, and how the 
attacks unfolded.  Shota Utiashvili, nominally head of the 
Statistical and Analytical Department (but in reality more of 
a Deputy Minister), also attended the meeting.  Merabishvili 
acknowledged that Russian forces continued to move freely in 
and out of Gori, Poti, and Senaki and claimed that they were 
also in Zugdidi.  Looting was rampant, primarily committed by 
Russian MOD personnel, but also by Cossacks and Chechens. 
Merabishvili said Georgian losses were less than has been 
reported, and that reports of 2,000 dead civilians in 
Tskhinvali are inaccurate.  He estimates that Russia has 
24,000 troops in Georgia, including Abkhazia and South 
Ossetia.  Merabishvili said Georgia's MOD can rely on 
approximately 6,000 troops (from an initial 12,000), and that 
MOIA personnel are largely reliable. End Summary. 
Situation on Ground in Flux 
2. (C) Merabishvili said the situation on the ground was 
changing every 30 minutes.  There was bombing, then quiet. 
He said Russian troops had been constantly moving in and out 
of Gori and the Port of Poti.  He said more Russian officers 
and troops were now present in Gori.  He alleged that the 
"Chechens and Cossacks" noted by the press are actually 
Russian MOD units with a few Ossetians included.  He told us 
that his police arrested two Russians driving a truck from 
Senaki with looted goods on August 13.  Merabishvili believed 
all of the Russians in Samegrelo were CIS PKF forces, but 
that the Russian forces in Gori were poorly equipped and 
organized.  He claimed that the Deputy Chief of Russia's 
Airborne forces, General Alexander Borisov, is commanding the 
Russians in Gori.  Merabishvili said 50 Georgian patrol 
police are ready to go into Gori and reestablish order as 
soon as the Russians leave.  Utiashvili claimed that Russian 
forces in the villages near Gori allowed North Ossetian 
irregulars to plunder the area, including raping women and 
shooting resisters.  Utiashvili claimed that they were 
stealing everything, from TVs to air conditioners to toilet 
paper. End note.) 
Fighting, Casualties in South Ossetia 
3. (C) Merabishvili claimed that press reports of 2,000 
people killed in South Ossetia were "fake."  He said that 
Georgian MOIA forces killed 13 in Tskhinvali, and Georgia's 
MOD lost 70 and claimed the numbers of wounded were 
significantly higher.  According to Merabishvili, there were 
about 30 civilians killed in Tskhinvali, and perhaps 200 
policemen.  He did not have an estimate for the surrounding 
villages.  He claimed 60 Georgian civilians were killed in a 
Gori apartment by a single bomb, likely a Backfire bomber. 
Utiashvili stated that there were 17 Georgians killed in 
Senaki, primarily by bombing, as well as four at the military 
base.  He said eight people were killed by bombs in Poti. 
Merabishvili estimated that Georgia is facing a flood of 
around 200,000 refugees. 
Invasion of Upper Kodori 
4. (C) In Kodori, Merabishvili reported that General Chaban 
(head of the CIS PKF, stationed in Abkhazia) had blocked 
Kodori from both sides, prior to the Russian Air Force 
dropping 300 bombs on the area.  Merabishvili said that his 
forces suffered three wounded, while they shot down one 
airplane and one helicopter.  He told us there was no ground 
battle in Kodori, as his men (approximately 500) escaped into 
the forest, where they remained.  Utiashvili claimed that 
General Borisov led the operation, which included 130 Russian 
military vehicles.  Aside from these 500 men, Merabishvili 
said of Georgian MOIA personnel, only patrol police remain 
inside the zone of conflict in Poti, Zugdidi, and Kutaisi. 
24,000 Russian Troops in Georgia 
5. (C) Utiashvili alleged there are now 9,000 Russian troops 
and 350 military vehicles (including tanks, armored personnel 
carriers, and trucks) in Abkhazia.  Some of these troops are 
airborne, both in Gali and Zugdidi.  He estimated there are 
now 15,000-plus Russian troops in South Ossetia. 
"Forget Georgia" Russians Say 
6. (C) Merabishvili said the Russians are now telling 
Georgian civilians in Zugdidi and Samegrelo region that they 
"should forget Georgia."  He claimed the Russians are testing 
former MOIA (under Shevardnadze) Igor Giorgadze's name in 
Gali and Zugdidi, as a potential new President/leader. 
(Note:  Press has reported that the deposed, exiled Giorgadze 
has been sighted in the Zugdidi region accompanying Russian 
troops, although some now argue that the Georgians are 
floating this rumor to drum up additional support for the 
Saakashvili go
vernment.  End note.) 
Russian Ballistic Missiles Targeted Georgia 
7. (C) Merabishvili said that the Russians used "Iskander" 
missiles (SS-26) to target Gori's city center and the 
Baku-Supsa oil pipeline near Rustavi.  Merabishvili provided 
photographic evidence of the second attack, which he claims 
originated from Dagestan, to DAS Bryza.  (Note:  Provided by 
email to the Task Force and Sit Room.  End note.)  Post has 
seen press photos of another Russian missile that landed in 
Poti.  Merabishvili alleged that BP has denied the attack on 
their pipeline in order to protect their stock value. 
Utiashvili said that a Russian officer possessed 2,000 new 
Russian passports (photos have been provided to Post), which 
he was planting on corpses to inflate the body count of 
"Russian citizens."  Merabishvili confirmed that the Russians 
had destroyed several Coast Guard cutters, although most of 
Georgia's border guards had gone to Turkey. 
Shelling of Tamarasheni Provoked Invasion 
8. (C) Merabishvili told us that the escalation of the 
conflict occurred after the villages of Nuli and Avnevi were 
destroyed.  Since OSCE observers were hunkered down in 
Tskhinvali, they could not hear the bombing in Avnevi. 
Merabishvili said that previous to this, de-facto Ossetian 
leader Kokoity would always stop the escalation.  This time, 
however, the Georgians and Ossetians traded fire back and 
forth, as the fighting increased from small arms fire, to 
mortars, to 122-mm mortars, to artillery.  Merabishvili tried 
to get the Ossetians to stop, but they would not.  When DAS 
Bryza asked who decided to invade Tskhinvali and why, 
Utiashvili said the Georgian side was compelled to respond to 
attacks on Tamarasheni.  Utiashvili said 44 people were 
killed in the ensuing three days the Russians bombed 
"Heroes took Tskhinvali, Held Four Days" 
9. (C) Merabishvili said that 600 of his MOIA special forces, 
with their Kobra vehicles (armored Humvees with 40-mm guns), 
took Tskhinvali in six hours, against 2,000 defenders.  He 
claimed that in the future they will use the attack to teach 
tactics.  He returned again to the subject, noting that "we 
held Tskhinvali for four days despite the Russians' bombing. 
Half of our men were wounded, but none died.  These guys are 
heroes."  (Comment: Post understands MOIA control of 
Tskhinvali was actually closer to 24 hours.  End comment.) 
Current Troop Status 
10. (C) Asked about the loyalty of Georgia's troops, 
Merabishvili said the MOD currently has 4,000 soldiers they 
can count on.  He expected this number to increase to 6,000 
following President Bush's speech.  Merabishvili claimed that 
70 percent of MOIA's initial paramilitary numbers are loyal 
and accountable, and that his special forces are 100 percent 
reliable.  In addition, he said the patrol police are 
functioning and reliable.  (Comment: Post's INL-contracted 
police trainer, confirms this information.  The Patrol 
Police's command and control is functioning and they are 
patrolling throughout the country, except for the conflict 
zones where they do not have access.  End comment.) 
Looking Ahead 
11. (C) Merabishvili expressed concern that the Russians 
intended to keep troops in Gori.  DAS Bryza told Merabishvili 
of his August 14th strategy session with President 
Saakashvili.  Bryza suggested that the next steps were: 
-- Get the Russian troops out of Georgia, and end the 
-- Take measures to shore up the economy (secure the banking 
sector and reassure investors). 
-- Repair the commercial sector (including opening the roads 
and Port of Poti). 
-- Provide relief and assistance to IDPs. 
Conflict resolution would then follow.  Bryza expressed his 
view that the UN Friends process was finished, and that 
Kokoity should be ostracized by the international community. 
He encouraged Merabishvili to present Georgia's version of 
the collapse of the cease fire on August 7 publicly. 


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