08TBILISI1988, GEORGIA: LACK OF ACCESS KEEPS HOTSPOTS HOT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI1988 2008-10-24 15:23 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8907
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1988/01 2981523
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241523Z OCT 08      (ZDK MANY SERVICES)
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0290
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0135
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4707
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 2195

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TBILISI 001988 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR GEORGIA MONITORING GROUP AND EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PREL MOPS RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: LACK OF ACCESS KEEPS HOTSPOTS HOT 
 
TBILISI 00001988  001.2 OF 004 
 
 
Classified By: CDA KENT LOGSDON FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1. (C)  Summary and comment.  Georgia has so far avoided 
major provocations since Russian troops withdrew from most 
undisputed Georgian territory, but several potential sources 
of friction remain.  Among them are Akhalgori; ongoing 
tension along the administrative boundaries of South Ossetia 
and Abkhazia; Perevi; and the ever-present rumor mill. 
Increased EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) activity has helped 
deter troublemakers, but the inability of the EUMM and the 
OSCE to enter South Ossetia reduces their ability to monitor 
events and encourage real restraint.  UNOMIG is receiving 
less and less cooperation from de facto forces, thereby 
losing some of its ability to deter trouble.  The Georgian 
side is publicizing what it sees as ongoing aggression in 
Akhalgori and elsewhere, leading to confused and sometimes 
inaccurate reporting, such as the late October 24 reports of 
200 armed South Ossetians coming across the border -- a story 
that appears to be a misreporting of a botched carjacking in 
a border village of Didi Kurvaleti by 15-20 Ossetians.   The 
Georgian press continues to cover Russian statements about 
the EUMM's inability to provide security, when contrasted 
with Russian intransigence in providing access north of the 
boundaries.  A renewed push for EUMM and OSCE access to South 
Ossetia, and EUMM and unrestricted UNOMIG access to Abkhazia 
-- in order to ensure restraint on both sides of the 
boundaries -- must continue to be a priority for the U.S. and 
the EU.  End summary and comment. 
 
AKHALGORI 
 
2.  (SBU) International observers agree that Akhalgori 
remains a potential source of real difficulty.  The Interior 
Ministry told post October 23 that Russian forces had sent 40 
additional armored vehicles to Akhalgori, along with an 
unknown number of troops.  The EUMM and OSCE were unable to 
confirm this information, but both observed that Russian 
forces had reinforced their southernmost checkpoint on the 
road to Akhalgori, just north of Odzisi.  Local residents are 
still able to travel in and out of Akhalgori, but entry is 
restricted for anyone else.  Press reports suggest the fee 
for non-residents to enter is 1,000 lari, although some say 
no one without residence can enter anymore.  An Embassy staff 
member reports he is unable to visit his family's ancestral 
home in Akhalgori because he is not resident there.  Recent 
press reports suggest ethnically Georgian young men in 
Akhalgori are now subject to Ossetian conscription, which 
would encourage them to abandon the town. 
 
3. (SBU) The Russian motivation for retaining and apparently 
strengthening control over Akhalgori remains a subject of 
debate.  Various Georgian officials have suggested the 
primary interest is strategic, because access to the 
Akhalgori Valley provides access to the hills to the east, 
which overlook the A-301 north-south highway (the old Russian 
military highway) and potentially enable Russian forces to 
close off that artery.  Another possible interest is 
political; no the valley lies within the South Ossetian 
administrative boundary, and Russia may want to help its de 
facto friends establish a firm claim to the entire territory. 
 EUMM officials have suggested the Russians may be holding 
Akhalgori as an eventual bargaining chip.  One local 
QAkhalgori as an eventual bargaining chip.  One local 
commentator offered a more ominous spin on this 
interpretation, warning that Russia's intention was to use 
Akhalgori and other specific points of contention to tie up 
international negotiations and deflect them from more 
fundamental issues. 
 
4. (C) The Georgians, meanwhile, may not be sitting idly by. 
On October 16 the EUMM reported to diplomatic colleagues that 
it had observed about 20 Georgian military forces (as opposed 
to Interior Ministry forces) north of Bazaleti, not far to 
the east of the Akhalgori Valley.  On October 23, the EUMM 
reported observing construction between the villages of 
Bantsurtkari and Ananuri, also east of Akhalgori, of what it 
believes could be new barracks for the Georgian military (the 
EUMM has not been able to confirm the purpose of the 
construction).  The presence of a mere platoon of soldiers or 
the construction of barracks by themselves might be 
innocuous, but he location so close to Akhalgori could raise 
tensions. 
 
TROUBLESPOTS ALONG THE BOUNDARIES 
 
5. (SBU) The administrative boundaries put residents of both 
undisputed Georgian territory and the breakaway regions, as 
well as their respective officials and law enforcement 
 
TBILISI 00001988  002 OF 004 
 
 
bodies, in close proximity.  In many cases the boundaries lie 
along open fields, with no effective boundary control, and 
m
ovement in both directions is easy, especially at night. 
The friction along these contact points has not yet erupted 
in renewed hostilities, but it could at any time.  Although 
international monitors are not always able to make an 
authoritative determination of events, and in some cases 
disagree on what likely occurred, the following incidents 
reflect some of the sensitivities that any particular 
incident could ignite. 
 
6. (SBU) One of the primary sensitivities is the presence of 
Georgian Interior Ministry personnel near the boundaries. 
From the Georgian perspective, the Interior Ministry presence 
is crucial to maintaining order and deterring attacks.   For 
its part, the EUMM does not consider its mandate as providing 
security directly, but rather monitoring the provision of 
security by the appropriate agencies -- in particular, the 
Georgian Interior Ministry.  The EUMM recently noted that 
some previously unmarked Interior Ministry vehicles now had 
"POLICE" (in English) written on the side, providing 
increased transparency (post personnel have observed some 
such vehicles near the boundary still without markings).  The 
EUMM has also expressed its satisfaction that the Interior 
Ministry carries appropriately low-caliber weapons near the 
boundary.  (Embassy Note:  We will urge the EUMM to make more 
of these observations public in order to demonstrate that the 
Georgian side is not in violation of the ceasefire.  End 
note.)  The EUMM would like to provide the same monitoring of 
local law enforcement in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but 
currently does not have the access or the contacts to do so. 
 
7. (SBU) On October 21, a Georgian Interior Ministry vehicle 
was damaged by a mine near the village of Avlevi, southwest 
of Tskhinvali and northwest of Gori.  One officer was 
slightly injured.  The location of the attack was outside 
South Ossetia, but only about 500 meters from the boundary. 
The OSCE reported the mine was a Russian MON-50, an 
anti-personnel device similar to a Claymore.  The EUMM 
determined the explosion was detonated remotely by wire, 
meaning that those responsible were within several dozen 
meters of the vehicle when they detonated the device.  The 
EUMM noted that traffic had traveled on the road in question 
throughout the day without incident, suggesting this one 
particular Interior Ministry vehicle was singled out as a 
target. 
 
8. (SBU) The evening of October 17 and the morning of October 
18, gunfire was reported on both sides of the administrative 
boundary just south of Tskhinvali, near Zemo Nikozi (outside 
South Ossetia) and Gujabauri (inside); no one was injured. 
The Georgian Interior Ministry claimed in both cases it was 
drunken soldiers firing into the air on the South Ossetian 
side; Russian forces claimed the October 18 shooting was 
aimed at a Russian checkpoint just inside South Ossetia.  The 
EUMM and OSCE received conflicting reports and were unable to 
confirm either version.  Russian forces informed the OSCE of 
the October 18 shooting shortly after it occurred, indicating 
they had been prepared to return fire, but refrained from 
doing so to give the OSCE a chance to investigate.  Russian 
forces did not allow the OSCE across the boundary to conduct 
Qforces did not allow the OSCE across the boundary to conduct 
an investigation there, however. 
 
9. (SBU) The morning of October 19, the town of Khurcha, 
north of the Enguri River but outside Abkhazia, came under 
attack; no one was injured.  UNOMIG believes rockets hit the 
town, citing pictures of impacts that show greater damage 
than rifle- or machine gun-fire could produce; the EUMM has 
questioned whether rockets struck, suggesting some of the 
damage could have been from previous attacks.  UNOMIG noted 
the presence of a Russian BMP-1 armored vehicle across the 
administrative boundary at the time, which carries a weapon 
that can shoot the projectile UNOMIG believes was fired (a 
SIG).  Locals reported to the EUMM that the attack was caused 
by a local criminal dispute.  A house hit in the attack, 
which UNOMIG believes to be the main target based on the 
number of impacts near the house, had recently been chosen as 
a local headquarters for the Georgian Interior Ministry. 
 
THE PROBLEM WITH PEREVI 
 
10. (SBU) Both EUMM and OSCE monitors agree the Russian 
checkpoint at Perevi is outside South Ossetia.  (Although the 
EUMM would like to locate an authoritative map to confirm 
that finding, the best information it has at the moment -- a 
map from the Georgian Geographic Institute -- supports that 
conclusion.)  The location of the checkpoint, at a fork in 
 
TBILISI 00001988  003 OF 004 
 
 
the road, allows Russian forces to control movement both into 
the village of Perevi (which is outside South Ossetia) and 
into South Ossetia.  Although the Russian side officially 
contends the checkpoint is inside the boundary, Russian 
forces at the checkpoint itself conceded to the OSCE it is 
outside the boundary, but said there was no other suitable 
location for it -- presumably to control the movement on both 
roads.  Moving the checkpoint into South Ossetia would 
prevent the Russians from controlling the road leading into 
Perevi, which loops back into South Ossetia after passing 
through the village. 
 
11. (SBU) On October 20, the Russian checkpoint did not allow 
a World Food Program shipment of 12 tons of foodstuffs to 
pass into Perevi.  Previous WFP shipments had successfully 
reached Perevi; it may have been the absence of the Russian 
commander from the checkpoint that led his deputy to block 
the delivery.  French Foreign Minister Kouchner objected to 
the lack of access to Perevi in his remarks at the October 22 
donors conference in Brussels, and the WFP successfully 
delivered the shipment October 24; the EUMM attributed the 
Russian change of heart to Kouchner's intervention. 
 
12. (C) One potentially troubling element of the Perevi 
situation is the EU's apparent hesitancy to press the point 
with the Russians.  The EUMM has not yet committed to a final 
determination that the checkpoint is outside South Ossetia, 
although it has located fairly authoritative maps, and it is 
unlikely to find anything more authoritative.  French 
Ambassador Eric Fournier suggested to the Charge that 
Kouchner did make the point firmly and publicly in Brussels, 
but in fact, the foreign minister's prepared comments 
(emailed to EUR/CARC) only objected to the lack of access to 
the village of Perevi, not the location of the Russian 
checkpoint.  Finally, recent EU public statements (e.g., EU 
High Representative Solana's October 10 statement on the 
withdrawal of Russian forces and the EUMM's October 17 
statement on unexploded ordnance) seem to suggest that Russia 
has complied with its obligations to withdraw from undisputed 
Georgian territory, not leaving the EU much room to object to 
the Russians' continued presence outside South Ossetia 
without revision of
its previous public statements. 
 
THE RUMOR MILL 
 
13. (C) October 23 and 24 reports of the presence of 
increased Russian forces in South Ossetia in general, and 
Akhalgori in particular, have heightened fears of Russian 
intentions and possible provocations.  An October 22 report 
in the press that women and children were evacuating 
Tskhinvali, which both de facto South Ossetian officials and 
the Georgian Interior Ministry refuted, also raised concerns. 
 The Interior Ministry reported to post that a story was 
circulating in South Ossetia that the Georgian side was 
planning to attack on November 1 in order to try to help 
Senator McCain in the U.S. presidential election.  The 
evening of October 24, a breathless MOIA official reported 
that 200 armed South Ossetians were crossing into the 
Georgian village of Didi Kurvaleti; EUMM and OSCE monitors 
later clarified that 15-20 South Ossetians had crossed into 
the village and attempted to hijack a car.  After failing, 
the Ossetians threatened to return.  EUMM monitors remain on 
the scene. 
 
INCREASING RESTRICTIONS ON MOVEMENTS IN ABKHAZIA 
QINCREASING RESTRICTIONS ON MOVEMENTS IN ABKHAZIA 
 
14. (SBU) In recent days, access in and out of Abkhazia has 
become increasingly difficult.  The morning of October 24, a 
pedestrian bridge along a railway bridge was blown up just 
north of Zugdidi, near Shamgona, destroying a basic link 
between Zugdidi and Gali.  Another pedestrian bridge a few 
kilometers away was rendered impassable by an apparent rocket 
attack on October 19.  The Russian checkpoint at Pakhulani 
began blocking all access into Abkhazia around October 21. 
UNOMIG patrols have heard numerous stories from locals that 
access into Abkhazia has become more difficult, more 
expensive, or no longer possible at certain crossing points. 
UNOMIG itself has experienced an increased amount of 
resistance from Abkhaz officials, who in some cases have not 
allowed UNOMIG patrols to pass and in other cases have either 
not spoken with the patrols or expressed keen disapproval 
with them.  UNOMIG has experienced such fluctations in 
cooperation before, and is therefore not ready to pronounce 
this recent friction a long-term trend, but notes that the 
level of cooperation does seem to have deteriorated in recent 
days. 
 
 
TBILISI 00001988  004 OF 004 
 
 
15. (SBU) UNOMIG also reports an increasing amount of 
excavation activity at Abkhaz and Russian checkpoints. 
 
COMMENT: WE'RE MORE THAN HALF BLIND 
 
16. (C) Much of the tension and mistrust currently 
threatening the administrative boundaries could be alleviated 
by access to the other side of the boundaries for the EUMM 
and the OSCE.  Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has been 
quoted in the press as blaming the EUMM for not doing enough 
to provide security.  To a large extent, this accusation 
stems from a fundamental disagreement between Russia and the 
EU about the nature of the EUMM.  Although we may not be able 
to resolve that difference of opinion, one simple way for the 
Russians to enable the EUMM to do more to ensure security -- 
if that is in fact Russia's aim -- is to allow the mission to 
monitor both sides of the border.  If Russia continues to 
refuse access to the EUMM, it will have difficulty arguing 
with a straight face that the diminished security along the 
boundaries is the EUMM's fault.  The same logic applies to 
Russia's attitude toward the OSCE.  The international 
community will have exponentially less ability to prevent 
renewed hostilities without access north of the boundaries. 
We should continue to make that access -- and a similar quest 
by the EU for that access -- a primary focus of our 
diplomatic efforts. 
LOGSDON

Wikileaks

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