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Cablegate: Tfgg01: Ambassador Volker's Meeting with Georgian

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C O N F I D E N T I A L USNATO 000291

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/08/2018
TAGS: PREL MARR NATO MOPS PINR GG RS
SUBJECT: TFGG01: AMBASSADOR VOLKER'S MEETING WITH GEORGIAN
FM TKESHELASHVILI AT NATO

REF: A. USNATO 287
B. USNATO ...

C O N F I D E N T I A L USNATO 000291 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/08/2018 TAGS: PREL MARR NATO MOPS PINR GG RS

SUBJECT: TFGG01: AMBASSADOR VOLKER'S MEETING WITH GEORGIAN FM TKESHELASHVILI AT NATO REF: A. USNATO 287 B. USNATO 284 C. USNATO 283 D. USNATO 282 E. USNATO 281 F. USNATO 280

Classified By: Ambassador Kurt Volker for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 1. (C) Summary. Ambassador met August 14 with Georgian FM Eka Tkeshelashvili to compare notes on the ongoing crisis and her efforts to lobby the Europeans for greater sympathy for the Georgian cause. The FM thanked the United States for its strong support, and welcomed U.S. advice and assistance in winning greater political support from Europe. Tkeshelashvili asserted that Russian forces began to flow into South Ossetia before the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali, proving that Russia had provoked, rather than responded to, the Georgian action. The FM was particularly keen to see the prompt arrival of international observers, before the Russians could further consolidate their position. She agreed to work closely with the United States on strategies to try to improve NATO's support for Georgia. End Summary.

2. (C) Ambassador met August 14 with Georgian FM Eka Tkeshelashvili to compare notes on the ongoing crisis and her efforts to lobby the Europeans for greater sympathy for the Georgian cause.


----------------------------- FM'S THOUGHTS ON THE CONFLICT ----------------------------- 3. (C) Tkeshelashvili said in recent days Georgia had faced an existential threat to the independence and sovereignty of Georgia. She shared her understanding that it had taken some time for French President Sarkozy to persuade the Russians to drop their demand for the immediate resignation of the President and Cabinet of Georgia as a precondition to a ceasefire. 4. (C) During the fighting Tkeshelashvili had twice talked to Russian FM Lavrov, who had clearly been given instructions to drag out the crisis in order to allow his military time to pursue their objectives.

---------------------------------- PROVOCATIONS, TIMELINES, AND THEIR IMPACT ON PERCEPTIONS OF BLAME ---------------------------------- 5. (C) Tkeshelashvili described a steady escalation of provocations from the start of August, and recalled that the Russians in South Ossetia, citing MFA Special Representative Popov, had contended to her that the Ossetian separatists were beyond their control. She said that Saakashvili's August 7 announcement of a ceasefire in South Ossetia had been a difficult one because Georgian civilians and forces were taking casualties. According to the FM the subsequent large scale artillery bombardment of villages in pro-Georgian areas had forced her government to respond. Crucially, part of their calculus had been information that Russian forces were already moving through the Roki tunnel into South Ossetia. Tkeshelashvili underlined that the Russian incursion could not have been a response to the Georgian thrust into South Ossetia because the Russians had begun their movements before the Georgians. Tkeshelashvili said Georgia had decided to withdraw from its own declared ceasefire and go on the offensive against the shelling. That action had turned into a larger operation. However they had miscalculated by underestimating the level of forces Russia was introducing, as well as the scope and strategic intent of the Russian military force which ultimately would follow.

6. (C) Tkeshelashvili also shared that the focus of the attack in South Ossetia had been a surprise to her government. The political situation in South Ossetia had been relatively good, and Georgian forces had been configured to deal with problems coming from the more problematic Abkhazia. She wondered whether Russian frustration at the pressure from a wide front, including Germany, to internationalize the Abkhazia political process may have influenced the Russians to provoke a conflict in South Ossetia. 7. (C) Tkeshelashvili said that she would be collecting evidence to be used in future war crimes charges, including the targeting of civilians and the indiscriminate use of cluster munitions. 8. (C) Ambassador Volker observed that the Europeans cannot realistically consider Russia to be a neutral mediator, and noted that the invocation of Article 51 of the UN Charter made Russia a legal party to the conflict. The FM agreed with the Ambassador that a UN mandate for a peacekeeping or observer force would be unlikely. She feared that the French effort to take its measures to the UN could become trapped there, and asserted that the UN cannot be the ultimate body in this case.

-------------------------------------------- GEORGIA LOBBYING FOR EU GOVERNMENTS' SUPPORT -------------------------------------------- 9. (C) The FM explained she had come to Brussels to lobby for support to Georgia in the ongoing crisis. She had met with many EU representatives and ministers on the margins of the August 13 GAERC in Brussels. She expressed regret that the Europeans were moving at a very slow pace in their discussion about providing peacekeepers/observers. Tkeshelashvili had been particularly alarmed at the EU's intention to defer examination of proposals for observers until the informal meeting in Avignon on 5 and 6 September. Tkeshelashvili assessed that President Bush's August 13 strong statement of support for Georgia, including practical assistance, would cause the EU to speed up its timeline. ----------------------------------- GETTING THE EUROPEANS TO UNDERSTAND ----------------------------------- 10. (C) The Ambassador emphasized the importance of effective public diplomacy in the days ahead. He explained that Europeans in some countries believe that Georgia had started the conflict, that the U.S. is to blame for encouraging Georgia, that NATO is to blame for its Bucharest promise of membership, or that both sides are problematic and both are equally to blame. The Ambassador advised that it would be important for a new public understanding to take hold. Empowering the voices of credible third parties such as NGOs and journalists would be crucial, especially given the importance of legality and human rights in European public opinion. Europe, he said, must be allowed to understand that this had been a long-planned conflict, and that Georgian forces had responded to an attack, not initiated one. He said candor would be important from the Georgian government, and that they must choose carefully how they portray Georgian forces' actions in the attack on Tskhinvali, and acknowledge any misconduct. Europe, he said, must also understand this is part of a Russian plan that has implications for the wider region, not just Georgia. 11. (C) The Ambassador encouraged a quick start to further public diplomacy efforts, so that, when governments reconvene to consider support for Georgia, their own domestic public opinion pushes them in the right direction. Tkeshelashvili agreed, saying she intended to communicate in detail the events that had led to the conflict. ------------------------------------------- CEASEFIRE OBSERVERS - WHERE TO GET THEM AND HOW TO DO IT QUICKLY? ------------------------------------------- 12. (C) Tkeshelashvili said that on August 13 the Russian Ambassador had provided the Deputy FM a draft non-use of force agreement to be signed by the Abkhazians, South Ossetians, and Georgians. She remarked on the irony that Russia continues to portray itself as a non-party to that ceasefire agreement contending it is still a neutral broker. The FM underlined that her government could not accept Russian-proposed buffer zones inside Georgia. 13. (C) Tkeshelashvili said that Europe needs to become more involved in the situation on the ground. She warmly welcomed the upcoming visit by Secretary Rice to Paris and Tbilisi as a very important effort to make the EU's work more effective. The FM expressed fears that, though many EU states are ready and willing to contribute personnel to a monitoring mission, they would be held back by a need for EU consensus. She said it is imperative to change both peace processes on the ground in the separatist regions, especially since Russia's control over both territories would lead both separatists and the Russians to act at will. Tkeshelashvili thought several EU members' hesitancy about sending monitors would dissipate now that the ceasefire was beginning to take hold. A second round of negotiations in the EU must start on this issue. 14. (C) Ambassador Volker suggested that, in addition to the Georgians' ongoing effort to solicit observers from the EU and OSCE, Tkeshelashvili might consider the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. He also indicated that the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities might worth consulting, as the existing mandate for that body would not require new authorization by OSCE members to allow observers to deploy. ---------------------------- GEORGIA'S NEXT STEPS AT NATO ---------------------------- 15. (C) The Ambassador counseled Tkeshelashvili that Georgia should not call another NAC 1 meeting for its own sake, but only with a specific outcome in mind, in light of the outcome of the NATO foreign ministers' meeting. Right now, he said, Allies needed a closed door discussion to forge a closer understanding of recent events and of the implications for NATO-Russian relations. The United States, he said, looks favorably on Georgia's list of requests to NATO, adding that not all Allies were of the same mindset. He said we would push hard for NATO to provide as much of the requested assistance as possible. Tkeshelashvili and the Ambassador agreed that Georgia should stay in close touch with the United States on the tactics of Georgia's interactions with NATO. 16. (C) Comment: Tkeshelashvili acknowledged that "the front line now lies with the MFA." She looked exhausted, but remained articulate and reasonable. Despite the stress of the conflict and a week without more than 30 minutes of sleep at a time, she remains capable of representing her country well on the international circuit. While her actions in the coming days will be important, we assess that many European governments will not easily chose to support Georgia in circumstances where Russians might object. We look forward to the August 19 ministerial in Brussels which will be crucial in the effort to persuade Europe that it must reexamine its Russia policy or risk similar developments in the future. End comment. VOLKER

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