International Herald Tribune
Former Georgian envoy to Moscow puts blame for war on his own country
By Olesya Vartanyan and Ellen Barry
Thursday, November 27, 2008
TBILISI, Georgia: A parliamentary hearing on the origins of the war between Georgia and Russia in August ended in tumult after a former Georgian diplomat testified that the Georgian authorities were responsible for starting the conflict.
Erosi Kitsmarishvili, Tbilisi's former ambassador to Moscow, testified Tuesday for three hours before he was shouted down by members of Parliament.
A former confidant of President Mikheil Saakashvili, Kitsmarishvili said Georgian officials had told him in April that they planned to start a war in Abkhazia, one of two breakaway regions at issue in the war, and had received a green light from the U.S. government to do so. He said the Georgian government later decided to start the war in South Ossetia, the other region, and continue into Abkhazia.
He would not identify the officials who he said had told him about the planned actions in Abkhazia, saying that identifying them would endanger their lives.
American officials have consistently said that they had warned Saakashvili against taking action in the two enclaves, where Russian peacekeepers were stationed.
Kitsmarishvili's testimony in front of a parliamentary commission, shown live on Georgian television, met with forceful and immediate denials. One commission member, Givi Targamadze, threw a pen and then lunged toward Kitsmarishvili, but was restrained by his colleagues.
The chairman of the commission, Paata Davitaia, said he would initiate a criminal case against Kitsmarishvili for "professional negligence."
Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, who appeared on short notice to comment on Kitsmarishvili's testimony, called the allegations "irresponsible and shameless fabrication," and said they were "either the result of a lack of information or the personal resentment of a man who has lost his job and wants to get involved in politics." Kitsmarishvili was fired in September by the president.
Kitsmarishvili walked out amid the furor Tuesday.
"They don't want to listen to the truth," he said.
The hearings are part of an official Georgian inquiry, whose full name is the Temporary Commission to Study Russia's Military Aggression and Other Actions Undertaken With the Aim to Infringe Georgia's Territorial Integrity. Many senior Georgian officials have already testified, and the president is scheduled to appear Friday.
Kitsmarishvili had petitioned to appear, saying a refusal to hear him would show that the inquiry was hollow.
In his comments, the former diplomat said that Saakashvili was responding to Russian provocation, but that he had long been planning to take control of the enclaves, which won de facto independence from Georgia in fighting in the early 1990s.
Kitsmarishvili said the president aimed to start an offensive in 2004, but met with resistance from Western and other Georgian officials.
Among the catalysts for the offensive, Kitsmarishvili said, was the belief that U.S. officials had given their approval. When he tried to verify that information with the American diplomats in Tbilisi, Kitsmarishvili said, he was told no such approval had been given.
Olesya Vartanyan reported from Tbilisi and Ellen Barry from Moscow.