09TBILISI408, GEORGIA: RUMORS OF A SPRING OFFENSIVE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI408 2009-02-27 15:08 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO5065
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0408 0581508
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 271508Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1087
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L TBILISI 000408 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/04/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL RS GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: RUMORS OF A SPRING OFFENSIVE 
 
REF: MOSCOW 0224 
 
Classified By: AMBASSAOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D) 
 
 1. (C) SUMMARY.  In recent weeks, we have detected a marked 
increase in comments, both public and private, that the 
Russians plan to invade Georgia in the spring.  These rumors 
have started to percolate into the press, assisted by 
Georgian parliamentarians such as Chairman David Bakradze who 
expressed fear on 24 February that "Russian aggression" in 
the spring cannot be ruled out.  Possibly underlining these 
rumors are renewed comments by Russian journalist Pavel 
Felgenhauer of the likelihood of Russian military action in 
April 2009.  MFA speculated that the source of the rumor 
could be a Russian special services disinformation campaign 
or it could be based on the fact of possible aggression as 
early as March.  Regardless of the validity of the rumors and 
their lack of factual basis, these thoughts have been on the 
Georgian government's agenda recently.  END SUMMARY. 
 
In Felgenhauer We Trust 
 
2. (C)  Georgian pundits, as well as officials in the 
Saakashvili government and in opposition, have been recently 
taking their concerns public about the possibility of renewed 
fighting in the South Caucasus.  Georgian Parliamentary 
Chairman David Bakradze commented that another "Russian 
military aggression against Georgia" was possible, and that 
Georgian politicians needed to be aware of their 
responsibilities in the face of such external threats. 
Defense Minister David Sikharulidze joined the chorus, 
stating that Russia may "stage new acts of provocation." 
Perhaps laying at the base of this is Russian military 
analyst Pavel Felgenhauer's articles stating his view that 
the Russians would invade in April 2009.  Some are skeptical 
of Felgenhauer's pronouncements, with military expert Kakha 
Katsitadze stating that Felgenhauer was predicting war with 
Russian "in unison" with the Georgian government to distract 
the population from real problems in Georgia now.  However, 
Felgenhauer's supposed prediction of the August 2008 war has 
taken on a life of its own in the Georgian elite, and thus 
his views are noted with interest amongst the punditocracy 
and government (see reftel). 
 
MFA Speculates About Russian Intentions 
 
3. (C) In a meeting with Poloff on 26 February, Georgian MFA 
Director of the Russian Section Irakli Toronjadze 
acknowledged the rumors, and in a microcosm of the 
wide-ranging reactions of the government, first placed the 
blame on a Russian "special services" propaganda campaign, 
followed immediately by an acknowledgment that it could be 
true, again quickly followed by a recognition that no one 
really had any idea of its validity.  Eventually, he settled 
on the fact that it was just likely rumors that have begun to 
feed on themselves, and that while an offensive in March 
could happen due to his belief that Russia certainly had war 
plans ready on the shelf, the Georgian government would just 
have to sit and wait to see what happens.  He also expressed 
his belief that Russian leadership was increasingly 
disappointed that countries such as Belarus had not 
recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, 
and it was the opinion in the MFA that Lukashenko would 
continue to lay the blame on Parliament as he pushed off 
making a decision for "years." 
 
4. (C) During the talks in Geneva, poloff noted that Russia 
had alleged the Government of Georgia had placed 2,000 
soldiers on the border with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with 
additional heavy equipment in support.  Even after these 
allegations were refuted by the OSCE and EUMM, both the 
Russians and South Ossetians continued to make such claims, 
QRussians and South Ossetians continued to make such claims, 
further bolstering paranoia among the Georgians of a new 
Russian attempt to have a pretext for additional operations. 
Additionally, observers have noticed the continuing increase 
in time between talks in Geneva, with the next round 
notionally scheduled for June.  This four-month break has 
been a sharp change from recent talks, which occurred in one 
month intervals or even slightly more frequent. 
 
5. (C) COMMENT: A paucity of facts has not limited the 
willingness of the press or the pundits to spread the rumors 
of a renewed Russian offensive in Georgia in the spring. 
Public apprehension over the prospect of another Russian 
invasion in palpable in Tbilisi.  Increasingly conversations 
with our interlocutors begin with a question: "do you believe 
there will be war?".  In a society where rumors fly with 
great speed, we expect this fear to grow as long as the 
Russians continue to threaten Georgia militarily and with 
provocative statements.  END COMMENT. 
TEFFT

Wikileaks

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