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Cablegate: Sitrep 1: Fighting in South Ossetia Escalates

VZCZCXRO5629
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1337/01 2201327
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 071327Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9857
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001337

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CARC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/07/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL RU GG
SUBJECT: SITREP 1: FIGHTING IN SOUTH OSSETIA ESCALATES

Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).

1. (C) Begin Summary: Intense fighting began in South Ossetia the evening of August 6 and continued into the daylight hours August 7. Intense fighting broke out west of Tskhinvali at approximiately 1800 in Avnevi and Nuli and continued until 2100, when explosions were noted northeast of Tskhinvali in Dmenisi and Sarabuki. By 0600 August 7, firefighting continued to the southwest in and around Erevneti. At 1600 local time, Deputy FM Grigory Vashadze called the Ambassador to report that a full-scale South Ossetian attack against a Georgian village was underway, resulting in the death of one Georgian peacekeeper and injuries to several others. There were reports of light arms fire, RPGs, and use of heavy artillery fire August 6-7, but the latter cannot be confirmed. Local Georgian authorities assisted by a JPFK escort evacuated approximately 40 children and women from Nuli after daybreak on August 7. Georgian authorities report that the South Ossetians are moving heavy military equipment from a base in J ava, located north of the conflict zone. OSCE observers indicated that Georgian forces along with GRAD artillery are on the move, either as part of a show of force or readiness, or both.

2. (C) Deputy Defense Minister Kutelia said that Georgian military troops are not massing in response to overnight's events and are taking great pains to respond proportionately. Minister of Foreign Affairs Eka Tkeshelashvili said that a proposed meeting between the State Minister for Re-integration Yakobashvili and de facto Representative Chochiev did not take place, and opined that de facto South Ossetian President Kokoity had blocked the meeting. However, OSCE reported that late in the day August 7, Yakobashvili was in the Russian peacekeepers compound in Tskhinvali meeting with Russian Envoy Yuri Popov along with the OSCE representative. Ambassador urged the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Minister of Defense to remain calm, not overreact, and to de-escalate the situation.

3. (C) Comment. The fighting which began well before dusk on August 6 and which continued into the early daylight hours of August 7, is atypical, given that these events usually end by daybreak. From evidence available to us it appears the South Ossetians started today's fighting. The Georgians are now reacting by calling up more forces and assessing their next move. It is unclear to the Georgians, and to us, what the Russian angle is and whether they are supporting the South Ossetians or actively trying to help control the situation. The Embassy is reviewing security procedures and will hold an EAC on August 8. End Summary and Comment.

Official Response ------------------

4. (C) In an August 7 meeting with the FM, the Ambassador urged the Georgians not to overreact to the situation and to restore calm to the region. The FM said that Kokoity blocked the proposed meeting between Yakobashvili and Chochiev and noted that the South Ossetians had instigated the August 6 attack. Ruslan Abashidze, Georgian Ministry for Reintegration, told Poloff that three Georgian peacekeepers had been injured in Wednesday evening's firefights and had been evacuated to the Gori military medical facility, where President Saakashvili will visit them. When the fighting escalated later on August 7, Deputy FM Vashadze told the Ambassador that one Georgian peacekeeper had been killed and several wounded. Vashadze said that heavy Russian equipment was being moved south from Java - a military base north of the conflict zone , which Georgians have not seen -- even in tense times -- in the past. According to Abashidze, Ossetians are shelling Georgian villages, and the village of Dmenisi has sustained significant damage.

5. (C) Deputy Minister of Defense Batu Kutelia told Ambassador at mid-day August 7 that Georgian military troops are on higher alert, but will not be deploying in response to Wednesday's events. According to the Embassy DATT, fourth brigade personnel were noticeably absent from training August 7, and those attending a UAV military training class had been called away as well. Kutelia said that the South Ossetians are targeting peacekeepers versus Ministry of Internal Affairs Troops. Embassy observers on the highway noted approximately 30 yellow city buses, the usual mode of transport for moving Ministry of Interior forces, carrying uniformed men heading north from Tbilisi.

OSCE Military Observers -----------------------

6. (C) OSCE Military observers told Poloff that Georgian TBILISI 00001337 002 OF 002 troops were on the move on the M-27 from east to west and west to east, in the direction of Gori. OSCE observers on the ground noted a column of 26 yellow city buses, carrying uniformed men, escorted by military vehicles moving to the north of Gori. There are numerous reports that the Georgians are moving military equipment and forces toward the north, but many cannot yet be confirmed. Initial impressions are that the Georgians are deploying troops to positions in Georgian territory to the south of the Zone of Conflict and were in a heightened state of readiness in order to show their resolve to respond to further attacks.
TEFFT

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