Cablegate: Georgia: Sitrep 5: Georgians Nearly Exhausted;
P 100929Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9877
INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L TBILISI 001349
C O R R E C T E D COPY -- ADDED E.O., TAGS, AND CLASS BY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/11/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: SITREP 5: GEORGIANS NEARLY EXHAUSTED;
PULL BACK FROM SOUTH OSSE...
C O N F I D E N T I A L TBILISI 001349 C O R R E C T E D COPY -- ADDED E.O., TAGS, AND CLASS BY E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/11/2018 TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: SITREP 5: GEORGIANS NEARLY EXHAUSTED; PULL BACK FROM SOUTH OSSETIA REF: TBILISI 1348 CLASSIFIED BY: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)
1. (C) Begin Summary: FM Tkeshelashvili briefed the diplomatic corps August 10 that Georgia has suffered huge casualties. The FM described the situation as no longer about South Ossetia but rather was Russia aggression against an independent country. She said Russian planes have bombed hospitals in Gori and Sachkhere. The FM said approximately 4,000 Russian troops have been offloaded at the Ochamchire port in Abkhazia yesterday and approximately 3,000 Russian troops have massed at the Lars border crossing near Kazbegi, hours from Tbilisi. Despite clear signals from Georgian officials and military commanders that they have pulled back out of South Ossetia and are seeking a cease-fire, Russian ground forces are now fighting in Zugdidi -- this is the first instance of Russian ground troops being used outside the conflict zone in Georgia proper. Multiple sources confirm that the Georgians have suffered terrible losses, have been pushed out of Tskhinvali following a massive Russian attack and have withdrawn from the conflict zone. It is currently mostly quiet in the ruined city of Tskhinvali, which is controlled by large formations of Russians who are massing north of Gori. Gori residents are fleeing. Negotiations were requested between the Russians and Georgians on opening a north-south corridor to evacuate civilians from the region. It is unclear if they will take place. The OSCE is appealing for stronger efforts to counter Russia's moves. Post believes a humanitarian crisis is rapidly developing in the country, and an assistance meeting with donors and the Minister of Health will be held at 1500 August 10. 2. (C) Bombing continued overnight and into the morning of August 10. An aircraft factory in Tbilisi near the international airport, communications near Abkhazia, and the port of Poti were all bombed, although most targets were apparently missed. UNOMIG has confirmed that nearly 100 armored personnel carriers and troop transports headed to the Kodori valley from Sukhumi. There are unconfirmed reports of Russian naval forces in Abkhazia and off the coast near Poti. Georgia has recalled its entire contingent of 2,000 troops from Iraq; they will arrive in Tbilisi on U.S. military aircraft mid-day August 10 through mid-day August 11. The Lithuanian and Ukrainian Foreign Ministers, as well as other representatives of the Friends, are in Tbilisi. French FM Kouchner and the Prime Minister of Estonia are scheduled to arrive tonight. The Tbilisi airport is now operating, following an earlier evacuation after three bombs landed nearby. The first convoy of embassy dependents and private citizens departed Tbilisi for Yerevan at 1325 local time. This sitrep covers events in the ongoing fighting between Georgia and Russia in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the evening of August 9 (reftel). End Summary. 3. (C) FM Tkeshelashvili briefed the diplomatic corps August 10 that Georgia has suffered huge casualties and Russia is now moving against Georgia proper; the fighting is no longer about South Ossetia. Despite clear signals from Georgian officials and military commanders that they have pulled out of South Ossetia and are seeking a cease-fire, Tkeshelashvili said that Russian ground forces are not responding. The Russians have expanded the fight to Zugdidi, on the Georgian side of the Abkhazia zone of conflict. This action represents another serious escalation -- ground forces in a Georgian non-conflict city. The FM also reported that 4,000 Russian troops offloaded at the Ochamchire port in Abkhazia yesterday, and approximately 3,000 Russian troops have massed near the Lars border crossing near Kazbegi, which is just two hours from Tbilisi by car. 4. (C) The Georgians suffered terrible losses (estimated in the thousands) overnight and have been pushed out of Tskhinvali following a massive Russian attack of 6,000 Russian troops that came through the Roki tunnel on August 9. Georgian forces have completely withdrawn from the zone of conflict. OSCE suspects the Russian attack came on the heels/initiative of PM Putin following his arrival in Vladikavkaz yesterday. Large formations of Russians, with tanks and armored vehicles, now control Tskhinvali and are massing north of Gori. Some EU partners suspect that the Russians may push into Gori in order to split Georgia between east and west. The ruined city of Tskhinvali is currently quiet. Georgian military officials have privately expressed deep disappointment with the U.S. and the West for not providing more support against the Russian attack. 5. (C) The Georgians have repeatedly requested negotiations (through military and diplomatic channels) with the Russians on a cease-fire, and opening a north-south corridor to evacuate civilians from the ruined city. The talks were intended to involve Reintegration Minister Yakobishvili and the Russian Ambassador to Georgia and Russian special envoy Popov. Local OSCE staff are in support of these efforts and appealing for stronger international efforts to counter Russia's aggression. DFM Vashadze said that he had called DFM Karasin early on August 10 to announce the pullback and request agreement to negotiate. FM Tkeshelashvili repeated that all subsequent Georgian attempts to offer disengagement with the Russians have been met with silence, including a request for an appropriate Russian leader to speak to Saakashvili. 6. (C) Post is preparing for an expected humanitarian disaster, as continued Russian attacks are inflicting terror on the population. FM Tkeshelashvili said Russian planes have bombed clearly marked hospitals in Gori and Sachkhere. In addition to the many casualties and unknowns regarding the population in/around Tskhinvali, nearly have of Gori's residents are believed to have fled the city. A meeting with the donor community, the Minister of Health and embassy officials will take place the afternoon of August 10. Should a cease-fire hold, we anticipate ever larger numbers of refugees in Tbilisi and other major city centers in the coming days. Tbilisi's main hospitals are already full of the injured. 7. (C) Separate from the FM's briefing, post confirms that bombing continued overnight and into the morning of August 10. An aircraft factory in Tbilisi, next to the airport was bombed but missed. UNOMIG confirmed that a communications tower and bridge near Urta close to Abkhazia were also targeted and missed at approximately 0800. The port of Poti was bombed again, although all three bombs failed to explode. Georgian refugees from South Ossetia and Gori are beginning to come into Tbilisi; a first tranche of USG assistance was delivered by Counterpart -- mainly bedding. 8. (C) UNOMIG confirmed this morning that 70 armored personnel carriers and 20 troop transport trucks were headed to the Kodori valley from Sukhumi at 0815. Ten of the trucks carried the Russian JPKF logo on the side. None of the remaining vehicles were similarly marked. 9. (C) Georgia has recalled its entire contingent of 2,000 troops from Iraq. Troops will arrive in Tbilisi on U.S. aircraft between mid-day August 10 and mid-day August 11. Post believes these troops will not be sent to the conflict zone, but instead will be used to defend Tbilisi. 10. (C) The Lithuanian and Ukrainian Foreign Ministers, as well as other Friends, are in Tbilisi. French FM Kouchner and the Prime Minister of Estonia are scheduled to arrive tonight. The Ambassador is joining this EU/OSCE delegation as it meets with key Georgian officials August 10. The Tbilisi airport is now operating, following an earlier evacuation.