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Cablegate: Georgia: Sitrep 10: Russians On Move, in Georgian

VZCZCXRO2287
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1379/01 2291543
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161543Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9905
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001379

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CARC AND TASKFORCE-1

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/16/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: SITREP 10: RUSSIANS ON MOVE, IN GEORGIAN
TANKS?

REF: TBILIS...

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001379 SIPDIS DEPT FOR EUR/CARC AND TASKFORCE-1 E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/16/2018 TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM RU GG

SUBJECT: GEORGIA: SITREP 10: RUSSIANS ON MOVE, IN GEORGIAN TANKS? REF: TBILISI 1372 Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D) 1. (SBU) Begin Summary: OSCE and Georgian officials confirmed a large convoy of Russian troops, including Ossetians, was headed east toward Tbilisi as of 1700 hours, August 16, but then OSCE reported that the convoy had turned back around toward Gori. OSCE fears further violence against civilians is likely. The main highway (M-27) remains closed, and OSCE was not allowed to enter Gori. There were reports of Russian troops and Georgian tanks observed traveling through Khashuri the morning of August 16. Media reported ongoing looting and rapes in the town. On August 15, the Georgian MOIA confirmed that Russian helicopters were dropping flares on the Borjomi national forest to start fires. The same day, Georgian TV showed Russian CIS PKF-marked trucks towing multiple Georgian coast guard boats out of the Port of Poti. Various other reports of looting and violence dominate the Georgian news. Relief efforts continue. Stores of grain and fuel are adequate for now, and relief efforts are focused on the immediate basic needs of food, clothes, and shelter. Recent estimates of IDPs put the total number around 100,000 with 60,000 officially registered in Tbilisi. The Patriarch visited Gori on August 15, and Tbilisi hospitals continue to treat wounded. Despite severe shocks, Georgia's economy remains stable. This sitrep covers events since the evening of August 14 (reftel). End Summary. 2. (SBU) OSCE and Georgian officials confirmed a large convoy of Russian troops and BMPs, including Ossetians, was headed east from Igoeti as of 1700 hours on August 16. The convoy's direction was unclear, as it could have been going to either Akhalgori (a majority Georgian area near the southeast border of Ossetia) or Tbilisi. A later call from the OSCE confirmed that the convoy had turned around. OSCE fears further violence against civilians is likely, as Akhalgori is highly populated. The main highway (M-27) remains closed, and continuing Russian presence in and around Gori, Khashuri-Agara, and Samtredia-Kutaisi has brought transit to a virtual standstill. OSCE was not allowed to enter Gori on August 16, and access to the city by the police is still unclear. BP officials observed Russian troops and Georgian tanks (presumably driven by Russians) traveling through Khashuri the morning of August 16. The troops were asking local residents for food, and traveling west toward Kharagauli. Earlier, press reports indicated violence, rapes, and looting in Khashuri as well. 3. (SBU) On August 15, the Deputy Minister of the MOIA Eka Zguladze confirmed that Russian helicopters were dropping flares on the Borjomi national forest to start wildfires. She urged cameramen to take as much footage as possible of the destruction. (Earlier she had urged the media not to circulate unconfirmed information which incites panic.) On August 16, the Government said more than 50 hectares are on fire. In addition, on August 15, Georgian TV showed Russian CIS PKF-marked trucks towing multiple Georgian coast guard boats out of the Port of Poti. 4. (SBU) In spite of widespread press coverage of Russian President Medvedev's signature and expectations that the Russians would immediately withdraw, there were few signs of this happening. Reports of Russian troop movements around Georgia persist as do reports of widespread and systematic looting. It is unclear if this is being orchestrated by Russian troops or irregulars. Video of soldiers in Russian uniforms robbing a Bank of Georgia has made its way to the internet. Government Coordination of Assistance ------------------------------------- 5. (C) During an assistance review meeting hosted by the PM, Government ministers reported to us on the relief situation. They assessed that the country was virtually divided in two. So, they are seeking goods and materials from Azerbaijan and Turkey to supply both East and West. They were confident they had enough stores of goods such as medicines, food, and fuel to supply the general public for the time being. They also report enough necessities for which there is no local market (tents, cots, personal hygiene kits, etc.) Grain/cereal stores were at approximately 20 days, as are fuel supplies. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan are exporting to Georgia freely. Poti port is still a major problem as freight forwarders will not insure delivery. BP confirmed that its ship, which was blocked by the Russian Navy two days ago, had been supplied and departed. Officials had heard reports that ships with Armenian-bound goods were allowed to deliver at Poti with relative ease, while ships delivering TBILISI 00001379 002 OF 002 goods for Georgia were being turned away or had to pay bribes to deliver. The Ministers did not have enough information at the time to determine if this was a deliberate policy, but a trend is noticeable. Members of the cabinet believe the only reason the Russians did not destroy the railroad is because it is the lifeline to Armenia and its destruction would punish the Armenians more than the Georgians. 6. (C) The PM is concerned about controls over the distribution process of humanitarian assistance. Lessons learned from the past show that NGOs, while meaning well, offer no coordination and lose control over the goods they distribute. This creates market distortions when recipients create a gray market by reselling the goods. As such, CabMin proposed that only the GOG and USG would control the wholesale distribution of goods to keep control over the situation and make it systematic and sustainable. The GOG also says it is actively trying to cool off the NGO flood in order to reduce a sense of panic and maintain calm and order among the IDPs. PM would like to centralize IDPs in larger collection points, but is of the opinion that it is not possible to do so. IDPs are already spread out over hundreds of places in Tbilisi and will not move voluntarily. The last image the GOG wants is forcibly moving IDPs to other collection points. The GOG said August 15 that 60,000 IDPs have officially registered in Tbilisi, and estimate total numbers of at least 100,000 so far. 7. (SBU) The Patriarch visited Gori on August 15, and met with IDPs there and in Nikozi. He delivered aid and helped facilitate evacuation of some wounded. Embassy humanitarian assistance units visited Republican and Gudushauri Hospitals in Tbilisi on August 10. Both hospitals had reported approximately 400 casualties each arriving from the conflict zone. In a follow up from August 15, Gudushauri Medical Center reported 600 wounded arrivals (total), including 50 civilians. Republican Hospital reported 450 wounded, one-third of whom are civilians. Republican reported significantly fewer casualties after Sunday. One death was reported at Gudushauri, though there were four DOAs. Gudushauri reported five amputations, Republican six. Economic Update --------------- 8. (SBU) Despite severe shocks, Georgia's economy remains stable so far. The National Bank of Georgia has intervened to not allow exchange rate fluctuations. Overseas transfers of more than 50,000 GEL (35,714 USD) and internet banking have been restricted. Major pipelines running through Georgia have suspended oil and gas delivery. In the case of BTC, it is due to the fire in Turkey. In Georgia, BP needs to examine the Baku-Supsa pipeline near Gori before it can resume operations. Electricity supplies are stable, and no imports are required at this time, although integration of Eastern and Western Georgia's power grids is not yet repaired. Communication infrastructure, though targeted by the Russians, continues to function. Some cell towers are powered by independent generators, with some reportedly running low on fuel. There are no signs of any food or gasoline shortages. TEFFT

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