“Did Saakashvili lie?”

The leading German news magazine SPIEGEL’s headline today ‘Did Saakashvili lie?‘ (Hat Staatschef Saakaschwili den Westen belogen?) seems to be motivated by two events. Firstly, ‘the mood’ among western politicians and commentators, which is shifting towards suspicion about the Georgian president’s version of events:

Five weeks after the war in the Caucasus the mood is shifting against Georgian President Saakashvili. Some Western intelligence reports have undermined Tbilisi’s version of events, and there are now calls on both sides of the Atlantic for an independent investigation.

Secondly, in an interview with the Spiegel, Saakashvili explicitly told the news magazine that Georgia had to stop Russian troops after Russia had started to bomb Tskhinvali.

“We wanted to stop the Russian troops before they could reach Georgian villages,” Saakashvili told SPIEGEL recently, explaining the marching orders that were given to his army. “When our tanks moved toward Tskhinvali, the Russians bombed the city. They were the ones — not us — who reduced Tskhinvali to rubble.” But reports by the OSCE describe a different situation in those critical hours.

Could the magazine be sufficiently annoyed by this breach of interviewee ethics to emphasise this news report and/or follow it up? It is currently printed on page 128 of the print version and the seventh story on the English language Spiegel Online (under the larger headline ‘A Call for Concrete EU Actions on Georgia’). Further excerpts:

[Paul Sanders, an expert on Russia and the director of the conservative Nixon Center in Washington]: “More and more people are realizing that there are two sides in this conflict, and that Georgia was not as much a victim as a willing participant.” […]

[At noon on Aug. 8] One thing was already clear to the officers at NATO headquarters in Brussels: They thought that the Georgians had started the conflict and that their actions were more calculated than pure self-defense or a response to Russian provocation. In fact, the NATO officers believed that the Georgian attack was a calculated offensive against South Ossetian positions to create the facts on the ground, and they coolly treated the exchanges of fire in the preceding days as minor events. Even more clearly, NATO officials believed, looking back, that by no means could these skirmishes be seen as justification for Georgian war preparations.

The NATO experts did not question the Georgian claim that the Russians had provoked them by sending their troops through the Roki Tunnel. But their evaluation of the facts was dominated by skepticism that these were the true reasons for Saakashvili’s actions.

The details that Western intelligence agencies extracted from their signal intelligence agree with NATO’s assessments. According to this intelligence information, the Georgians amassed roughly 12,000 troops on the border with South Ossetia on the morning of Aug. 7. Seventy-five tanks and armored personnel carriers — a third of the Georgian military’s arsenal — were assembled near Gori. Saakashvili’s plan, apparently, was to advance to the Roki Tunnel in a 15-hour blitzkrieg and close the eye of the needle between the northern and southern Caucasus regions, effectively cutting off South Ossetia from Russia.

At 10:35 p.m. on Aug. 7, less than an hour before Russian tanks entered the Roki Tunnel, according to Saakashvili, Georgian forces began their artillery assault on Tskhinvali. The Georgians used 27 rocket launchers, including 152-millimeter guns, as well as cluster bombs. Three brigades began the nighttime assault.

The intelligence agencies were monitoring the Russian calls for help on the airwaves. The 58th Army, part of which was stationed in North Ossetia, was apparently not ready for combat, at least not during that first night.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: