08TBILISI2271, GEORGIA: ABKHAZIA SITUATION UNTENABLE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI2271 2008-12-08 13:38 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0819
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #2271/01 3431338
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 081338Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0532
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0150
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4742
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 2222

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TBILISI 002271 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/08/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PREL MOPS RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: ABKHAZIA SITUATION UNTENABLE 
 
REF: A. A) TBILISI 2176 
     B. B) TBILISI 2053 
     C. C) TBILISI 1988 
     D. D) TBILISI 2190 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1. (C)  Summary and comment.  During December 2-3 meetings in 
Zugdidi, government officials, EUMM and UNOMIG monitors, and 
NGO representatives all told the Ambassador that the security 
situation in and outside Abkhazia is precarious, with 
frequent violent incidents and provocations.  Georgian police 
along the administrative boundary in particular face constant 
threats.  Government officials, as well as EUMM and UNOMIG 
personnel all affirmed that these incidents have been 
instigated by the Abkhaz and/or Russians (it is difficult to 
say which), and that Georgian forces are showing real 
restraint in not responding in a like manner.  All 
interlocutors also said that living conditions for villagers 
along both sides of the boundary, Georgians in Gali, and IDPs 
outside Abkhazia are difficult.  The Abkhaz and Russians have 
tightened the boundary; the population in the area, beyond 
living in fear, therefore also faces limitations on movement. 
 The Abkhaz and/or Russians may even seek to annex what has 
been (up-to-now) indisputable Georgian territory north of the 
Enguri River.  The situation is clearly untenable.  Although 
establishing a buffer zone might seem like an attractive 
option in the short term, it could also turn into a de facto 
recognition of the new state, and the Georgian government has 
indicated it would rather engage now to find a solution.  If 
the other side is open to it, cooperation is likely to be a 
more sustainable approach in the long term -- and the more 
likely to preserve Georgia's territorial integrity.  End 
summary and comment. 
 
Security along the ABL: An oxymoron 
 
2. (C) Samegrelo Governor Zaza Gorozia, Regional Police Chief 
Tengiz Gunava, EUMM Field Office Commander Lorenzo Tavella, 
UNOMIG Deputy Operations Officer (U.S. Army Captain) Matthew 
Pearce, and several representatives of local NGOs all 
described for the Ambassador a tense environment on both 
sides of the administrative boundary line.  Both Tavella and 
Pearce, as well as Georgian officials, said the Abkhaz and 
Russians were clearly the source of the provocations.  Gunava 
noted that this first week of December was the first week 
since the war that had not had a major security incident -- 
yet we heard from UNOMIG that an elderly woman from Nabakevi 
was found dead that very day, apparently having been abducted 
for ransom some days earlier and then beaten.  Gunava added 
that two Georgian police officers had been shot in the head 
in recent weeks by snipers, explaining that analysis of the 
bullets indicated that special sniper rifles employed only by 
Russians were used.  Pearce reviewed several of the most 
recent incidents: November 20 attack on Georgian Interior 
Ministry post in Ganmukhuri (ref A), which included the 
laying of pop-up anti-personnel mines; November 15 ambush at 
Kalagali on Georgian Interior Ministry forces, with one 
fatality (ref A); November 14 explosion at a Muzhava power 
station (ref A), as a result of which local residents still 
lack power; October 25 explosion in Eritskali with two 
fatalities, including the district administrator (ref B); the 
destruction of bridges and general canalization of movements 
into Abkhazia (ref B); and October 19 attack on an Interior 
Qinto Abkhazia (ref B); and October 19 attack on an Interior 
Ministry building in Khurcha (ref C). 
 
3. (C) Particularly telling is the recent discussion between 
the EUMM and the Georgian Interior Ministry regarding the use 
of armored vehicles.  Italian and Polish components of the 
EUMM use armored vehicles near Abkhazia and South Ossetia, 
respectively.  The Interior Ministry recently announced its 
intention to deploy so-called COBRA armored vehicles, which 
resemble those used by the Italians and Poles.  Gunava 
explained the introduction of the vehicles as a security 
measure, to protect his officers who have increasingly become 
targets.  As EUMM officials have explained to us in Tbilisi, 
the EUMM has asked that the Interior Ministry reconsider 
deployment, because it is worried that the Abkhaz or Russians 
(or South Ossetians) could mix up the vehicles and target EU 
monitors.  The EUMM has applied bright blue and yellow tape 
to its own vehicles to render them more easily visible and 
identifiable, and Gunava explained that the Interior 
Ministry's vehicles will also be plainly labeled.  Thus no 
only do both the Interior Ministry and the EUMM consider the 
use of armored vehicles near the boundaries important to 
their personnel's safety, but they both recognize that 
Interior Ministry forces are likely to be the specific target 
 
TBILISI 00002271  002 OF 004 
 
 
of attacks.  Although UNOMIG did not see a
 direct threat to 
its own personnel at this time, it did raise UNOMIG safety as 
a concern for the future. 
 
4. (C) Beyond safety concerns, both EUMM and UNOMIG indicated 
that their ability to implement their missions in general is 
hampered by a lack of cooperation by the Abkhaz and Russians. 
 Although UNOMIG is able to cross the boundary without 
difficulty, it often encounters resistance from individual 
Abkhaz (not Russian) forces; its patrols are sometimes 
prevented from proceeding past individual Abkhaz checkpoints 
(ref B).  The EUMM has been unable to gain access to Abkhazia 
at all (one of the two patrols it tried to send in was turned 
around at gunpoint -- ref A), and both the Abkhaz and 
Russians have essentially refused to be in regular contact 
with them. 
 
5. (C) The governor, the EUMM and UNOMIG identified territory 
north of the Enguri River, but under Georgian control (i.e., 
and on the Georgian side of the administrative boundary), as 
primary targets for attacks and therefore areas of particular 
concern.  Nearly all of the major incidents have occurred in 
these locations, including the ones in Ganmukhuri, Kalagali, 
Muzhava, Eritskali, and Khurcha, and the international 
monitors now refer to this region as the "triangle of death." 
 Georgian officials have in the past suggested that the 
Abkhaz and/or Russians would like to gain control of these 
areas, thereby making the Enguri River the effective 
administrative boundary.  EUMM personnel strongly echoed this 
concern, although UNOMIG personnel were not convinced actual 
annexation was the goal.  The governor said that Abkhaz de 
facto "Defense Minister" Kishmaria recently visited 
Ganmukhuri and encouraged locals to accept Russian patronage, 
but was rebuffed. 
 
6. (C) Of particular strategic concern is the triangle of 
land west of the Enguri Dam; if the Abkhaz or Russians 
controlled this area, they would control the Enguri power 
generation facility in total, and could deprive Georgia of a 
key energy resource.  (Note:  The Enguri power station is in 
Abkhaz controlled territory, while the dam is part of 
undisputed Georgia.  The Enguri facility provides 
approximately 40 percent of Georgia's winter electricity. 
End note.)  Both the governor and staff at the dam itself 
downplayed an immediate threat to the electricity.  They 
suggested that the Abkhaz and Russians would only seriously 
consider cutting Georgia off from the electricity if they 
physically controlled the dam itself, because otherwise 
Georgia could simply stop the flow of water to the power 
plant and cut off Abkhazia too (ref D).  (Note: If they were 
to gain control of the Muzhava-Eritskali-Kalagali triangle, 
however, the Abkhaz and Russians would be one step closer to 
physical occupation of the dam.  End note.) 
 
7. (C) The governor suggested that rifts have appeared 
between the Abkhaz and the Russians.  He told one story about 
an altercation between Abkhaz and Russian forces at a 
restaurant in Sukhumi, which ended with 20 Abkhaz being 
beaten up by Russian soldiers.  The dispute arose when the 
Russians suggested that the Abkhaz had better not forget who 
their patrons were.  In another case, the Russians dismissed 
a local hero from the earlier war in Abkhazia from his 
important and lucrative position as shift leader at the 
Enguri Power Plant, installing their own person instead.  As 
QEnguri Power Plant, installing their own person instead.  As 
Gorozia explained, the Abkhaz are getting frustrated with the 
Russians, but they are in no position to express that 
frustration.  The EUMM and UNOMIG noted that the Abkhaz have 
gradually been taking control of control points on the 
boundary, and both agreed that the main interest in 
maintaining those points was economic.  UNOMIG portrayed this 
as a significant shift, and said that in recent weeks Abkhaz 
have been somewhat more tolerant about letting people cross 
the boundary.  The governor downplayed the shift's 
significance, however, noting that the Russians still have 
their own checkpoints not far behind the Abkhaz. 
 
Basic human rights: Difficult to defend or improve 
 
8. (C) All our interlocutors emphasized that life for local 
residents on both sides of the boundary has become very 
difficult.  At the most basic level, the ongoing violence has 
raised everyone's concern for their own safety.  NGO 
representatives noted the particular vulnerability felt by 
villagers north of the Enguri, such as Pakhulani and Mujava 
-- i.e., in the same triangle north of the Enguri.  UNOMIG 
reported that some villagers have sent their children away to 
stay with relatives.  Freedom of movement across the boundary 
 
TBILISI 00002271  003 OF 004 
 
 
has been severely restricted, although UNOMIG reported some 
easing in recet weeks.  For ethnic Georgians in Gali, 
crossing into undisputed Georgian territory has become more 
difficult and more expensive.  Since the destruction of 
several pedestrian bridges in recent weeks (ref C), which 
UNOMIG blamed squarely on the Russians, only four crossing 
points remain: at Ganmukhuri, Khurcha, Rukhi (the main bridge 
between Zugdidi and Gali), and Pakhulani.  Individuals can 
and do make informal crossings, including by fording the 
river, but stories of newly laid mines along the northern 
bank of the Enguri -- which the governor and UNOMIG personnel 
both said are true -- have limited those options.  According 
to the governor, the going rate to cross (in both directions) 
is 30 lari (about $18), versus 6 lari before the war.  As NGO 
representatives pointed out, the monthly allowance given to 
Georgians in Gali -- which must be picked up in Zugdidi -- is 
only 28 lari, making the stipend worthless for most.  One 
small ray of hope emerged on December 4, when UNOMIG reported 
that local Abkhaz forces gave permission to locals to repair 
a rail bridge at Tagiloni, thereby opening the possibility of 
one more crossing point. 
 
9. (C) Meanwhile internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the 
August and earlier conflicts require attention.  The governor 
said Zugdidi received only a few dozen IDP families from the 
most recent war, but the region of Samegrelo still has a 
total of 90,000 IDPs.  He acknowledged that resentment among 
the older generation of the assistance given to the newer 
IDPs has become an issue.  He said the government intends to 
focus on the problem in 2009 by taking a census of all 
current IDPs and getting a more precise picture of the scope 
of the issue.  NGO representatives reinforced the seriousness 
of this growing resentment and added their complaint that in 
general western Georgia receives less attention from donors 
than the rest of the country. 
 
10. (C) Compounding these difficulties are economic ones 
arising from the war and the global economic crisis. 
According to the governor, the price of hazelnuts -- a 
primary export from the region -- has dropped by two-thirds, 
and 70% of the crop remains u
nsold.  More generally, 
agriculture as a whole, especially any enterprises that 
depend on import and export, has been hit hard.  Furthermore, 
credit difficulties have stopped current projects and blocked 
new ones, such as in construction.  One big project in Poti, 
for example, that would have employed 400 people has stopped. 
 The governor said he begins every day reading the financial 
information from the Asian markets, because they have such a 
big impact on his region's welfare.  (Note:  The UAE Rakeen 
Group completed the 100 percent purchase of the Port of Poti 
on December 2, and have pledged to bring 20,000 jobs to the 
region (septel).  End note.) 
 
Comment: It's time to find a way to rebuild bridges 
 
11. (C) The only thing more striking than the extent of the 
pressures currently weighing on both the Georgian Interior 
Ministry and the local population is the willingness so far 
of both groups to hang in there without responding in kind or 
fleeing.  Governor Gorozia called the police officers who 
faced Russian troops during the war heroes, and we could say 
the same for the forces who try to maintain a secure 
environment for the local population -- and for the residents 
Qenvironment for the local population -- and for the residents 
themselves.  (Embassy note:  Deputy Interior Minister 
Zguladze told a visiting Washington delegation that more 
Georgian street cops have died in the post-conflict period 
than died during the war.  End note.)  The situation clearly 
cannot continue much longer, however, without a major 
escalation and/or yet another humanitarian crisis.  A senior 
Interior Ministry official told us December 8 he estimated 
that 3,000 Georgians would leave Gali by spring if current 
conditions do not change. 
 
12. (C) A way forward is needed.  The Georgian foreign and 
reintegration ministers have both recently signaled to us 
their commitment to engage, not isolate, both Abkhazia and 
South Ossetia.  We see this as a hopeful sign of sincere 
interest in cooperation, which can help the sides address 
both security and human rights concerns.  It takes two to 
tango, of course, and we still need to find a way to convince 
the other side to go along.  One of the difficulties is that 
the "other side" consists of two parties, and it is difficult 
to distinguish their different motivations and interests.  We 
have seen some slight but tantalizing hints (such as UNOMIG's 
reports of an ease in movement restrictions and permission to 
rebuild a bridge) that some of the Abkhaz, at least, might be 
starting to realize the importance of cooperation.  Although 
 
TBILISI 00002271  004 OF 004 
 
 
security concerns might make a strictly enforced buffer zone 
appealing in the short term, we think working toward 
cooperation is the more sustainable approach -- and the one 
more likely to protect Georgia's territorial integrity in the 
long run. 
TEFFT

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