Cablegate: Russian Active Measures in Georgia

DE RUEHSI #1732/01 2011210
O 201210Z JUL 07





EO 12958 DECL: 06/19/2017

REF: A. TBILISI 1605 B. TBILISI 1352 C. TBILISI 1100 D. 06 TBILISI 2601 E. 06 TBILISI 2590 F. 06 TBILISI 2425 G. 06 TBILISI 2390 H. 06 TBILISI 1532 I. 06 STATE 80908 J. 06 TBILISI 1064 K. 06 TBILISI 0619 L. 06 TBILISI 0397 M. 06 MOSCOW 0546 N. 06 TBILISI 0140 O. 05 TBILISI 3171

Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4 (b)&(d).

Introduction and Comment

1. (C) The strains between Russia and Georgia play out in leaders’ statements, the Russian economic embargo, the separatist conflicts, and a number of other public ways, but they also play out on a level that is at least slightly below the surface: Russian “active measures” (or covert actions) aimed at Georgia. This cable summarizes some of the suspected Russian active measures undertaken in recent years, ranging from missile attacks and murder plots to a host of smaller-scale actions. It is a long list, and it is very much on the minds of Georgian leaders as they make decisions about how to deal with Moscow. For many of the suspected Russian activities, such as blowing up a Georgian police car or plotting to kill an opposition figure -- or even the missile attack in Kodori in March -- it is difficult to understand what the Russians hoped to gain that would be worth the risk of exposure. Georgian officials often tell us that Russia has set out on a policy of regime change in Georgia. No doubt the Russians’ would like to see Saakashvili removed, but the variety and extent of the active measures suggests the deeper goal is turning Georgia from its Euroatlantic orientation back into the Russian fold. Even the smaller of the active measures serve this purpose by promoting a sense of instability, which the perpetrators may hope will scare off Georgia’s would-be European partners and/or provoke the Georgian leadership into a rash reaction that separates Georgia further from the West. As a high Russian FSB official reportedly told a Georgian counterpart recently, Russia’s goal is not Abkhazia or South Ossetia, but all of Georgia (ref C). While the Russians typically make some efforts to reduce their fingerprints on actions -- making it hard to say with 100% certainty that they are responsible for many of them -- the cumulative weight of the evidence of the last few years suggests that the Russians are aggressively playing a high-stakes, covert game, and they consider few if any holds barred. End Introduction and Comment.

Direct Military Attack

2. (C) Probably the most notorious recent incident was the missile attack on Georgian positions in the Upper Kodori Gorge on the night of May 11-12, 2007. As documented by a UN-led joint investigation, the attack included one or more helicopters that apparently fired a missile into the headquarters of the Georgian-backed “Government-in-Exile” of Abkhazia, as well as ground-fired missiles that struck near other targets in the area. UN investigators have told us privately that they agree with the Georgians that only Russia could have launched the attack, noting that while the final written report does not directly assign blame, “any reasonable person” would conclude from it that Russia was responsible (ref B). Russia did not make any serious effort to cooperate with the investigation, claiming its Caucasus radar systems were turned off at the time of the attack, leaving it with no records to share. Georgian officials strongly suspect that a subsequent violation of their airspace May 20 was a Russian attempt to plant false evidence regarding the ground-based firings, although in the end investigators did not visit the area in question.
3. (C) March 11 was not the first time the Russians were believed to have conducted a bombing raid on Georgian territory. Russian planes were widely believed to be responsible for a bombing of the Kodori in October 2001, and for bombings of the Pankisi Gorge, a Georgian area that borders Chechnya, in 2001 and 2002, drawing criticism from the USG and elsewhere in the international community, despite Russian denials of responsibility.

Murders and Attempted Murders
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4. (U) On February 1, 2005 a bomb exploded in a car at the police station in Gori, the largest Georgian city close to South Ossetia, killing three Georgian police officers. Following an investigation, Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs Merabishvili said publicly that the bombing was masterminded by Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer Anatoly Sinitsyn (ref E), leader of the GRU team that was subsequently broken up in the September 2006 spy arrests (see paragraph 8).
5. (SBU) On June 8, 2006, neighbors approached a suspicious man loitering around the home of Koba Davitashvili, a leading opposition politician. The man fired two shots from a gun equipped with a silencer, slightly wounding one of the neighbors, and fled. He left behind a small bag that included a newspaper photo of Davitashvili and Russian cell phone company SIM cards. Following a Georgian investigation, Minister of Internal Affairs Merabishvili publicly identified the suspect as Giorgi Kurtaev, a Russian citizen who had been monitoring Davitashvili for several weeks, with one interruption for travel back to Russia. Following the June 8 incident Kurtaev fled again to Russia, from where Georgian officials unsuccessfully sought to extradite him. Georgian officials have stated publicly that the incident was a provocation perpetrated by a foreign intelligence service, and an attempt to discredit the Saakashvili government (ref H).


6. (C) On January 22, 2006, near-simultaneous explosions in the Russian region of North Ossetia ripped into natural gas pipelines running from Russia into Georgia. Later that day, an explosion in the Karacheyevo-Cherkessia republic in Russia knocked out a high-voltage line supplying Georgia with electricity (ref M). The attacks immediately plunged Georgia into a major energy crisis, with virtually no ability to heat homes in the coldest part of winter. The Russian government claimed these were “terrorist” attacks, but Saakashvili repeatedly suggested the Russian government was responsible for the well-coordinated attacks in a heavily monitored part of the North Caucasus (ref N). This impression was further reinforced in Georgian minds by the fact that the gas magically resumed just as Armenia -- which receives its gas through Georgia -- was about to exhaust its reserves.
7. (C) In September 2006, the Georgian government arrested 29 activists of Igor Giorgadze’s Justice Party on charges of planning an explosion outside the headquarters of the ruling National Movement, intended to be the prelude to a coup. Evidence included seized bombmaking equipment, recorded conversations, and the testimony of ten witnesses. Giorgadze himself is a former Georgian Minister of Security believed to be living in Russia to avoid a Georgian warrant for his arrest in connection with a 1995 assassination attempt against then-President Shevardnadze. His Justice Party has never been popular in Georgia, and it was widely believed that the party was funded almost exclusively from Russia (refs F and G). It is interesting that one of the defendants, Maia Topuria, has hired two U.S.-based lawyers and a Washington law firm to lobby NATO and NATO capitals over alleged rule of law abuses with regard to the case.


8. (SBU) Georgian authorities arrested four Russian military officers and eleven Georgians for espionage on September 27, 2006. The Georgian government subsequently released evidence collected over a long investigation, including video footage showing money being exchanged for documents, as well as audio tapes and transcripts of incriminating conversations between the Russian officers and their Georgian agents (ref D). According to the Georgian government, this Russian operation was conducted by the same GRU team responsible for the deadly Gori bombing in 2005. Georgia released the officers October 2, after which Russia cut air links to Georgia and began a campaign of deportation and harassment of Georgians living in Russia, reportedly resulting in four deaths of Georgian citizens.
9. (SBU) In April 2006, a pro-Kremlin television journalist in Moscow aired recorded cellphone conversations between Givi Targamadze, chair of the Georgian Parliament’s Defense Committee, and contacts in the Lithuanian MFA and in Washington, in which Targamadze is critical of Belarusian opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich. In one recording Targamadze appears to speak of having Milinkevich killed. It is widely believed in Georgian political circles that Russian electronic eavesdropping is ever-present; this case appears to confirm that suspicion, with the eavesdroppers apparently deciding that the conversations -- perhaps doctored or
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selectively edited -- were so embarrassing to Targamadze and Milinkevich that it was worth it to make them public.

Support for Separatists

10. (C) The Russian government has provided direct, if at times thinly veiled, support to the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, without informing or obtaining the consent of the Georgian government. In South Ossetia, many de facto cabinet ministers and advisors to Kokoity are Russian officials -- in most cases believed to be FSB -- serving a rotation in South Ossetia before returning to work in Russia. It is widely understood that Russia is paying, in full or in part, the salaries of police and other civil servants in South Ossetia -- and that Russia recently increased these payments as a disincentive for South Ossetian officials to defect to the Georgian-backed temporary administrative unit of Dmitry Sanakoyev. The South Ossetians have reportedly received arms and equipment from Russia, including GRAD missiles, on various occasions, including during recent tensions (ref A). The Russians undertook a number of unilateral construction projects in South Ossetia in 2006 that they later claimed were in fulfillment of Russia’s pledge to the OSCE donors’ economic rehabilitation program, but in fact took place outside the donors’ program as well as in violation of a 2000 agreement on Georgian-Russian economic cooperation that calls for economic projects in coordination with all sides. Russia is widely reported to be working on projects to connect South Ossetia to Russian gas and telephone networks. Russia has distributed passports widely to residents of South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) to such an extent that Kokoity has claimed to USG officials that 95 percent of the population of South Ossetia is made up of dual Russian citizens (refs I and O).

11. (C) The de facto government of Abkhazia appears to have a somewhat greater degree of independence from Moscow than does its counterpart in South Ossetia; Russia is considered more aligned with the Abkhaz opposition led by de facto vice-president Khajimba, who despite Russian backing lost the 2004 presidential contest to current de facto president Bagapsh. Nevertheless, it is clear Russia has great leverage over Bagapsh, who frequently travels to Moscow for consultations, not to mention a trip to Moscow for emergency medical treatment in April -- getting there, the Georgians tell us, on an FSB plane. Several sources have also told us that a senior FSB officer actually lives in a separate residence on Bagapsh’s presidential compound. An Abkhaz representative told the Ambassador in the fall of 2006 that Russia was at the time putting strong pressure on Bagapsh to attack the Georgians in response to their successful operation in July in the Upper Kodori Gorge. Georgian officials do not believe that the Abkhaz were aware of the March Kodori missile attacks in advance, but that the Abkhaz are required to accept the Russians’ use of their territory for such incidents. Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia have committed -- or permitted the Abkhaz to commit -- repeated violations of existing agreements (ref L).

Support for Minority Extremists

12. (C) Georgian officials in Tbilisi and Akhalkalaki, as well as local community leaders and political activists, have confirmed that the Russian government has funded radical ethnic-Armenian nationalists in Samtskhe-Javakheti in a bid to destabilize this mutli-ethnic, politically fragile region. Tensions peaked during spring 2006 when scattered violent demonstrations occurred in Akhalkalaki in March (ref K), following the murder of an ethnic Armenian in the city of Tsalka, and on May 2 (ref J), when protesters briefly halted
SIPDIS the first stage of Russian base withdrawal. As the withdrawal moved ahead, disturbances in Akhalkalaki dropped off precipitously, lending credence to Georgian allegations that the tensions were being stoked by elements operating from within the Russian base.


13. (C) It is especially difficult to nail down the origin of any of the multitude of rumors, conspiracy theories, and political speculation in Georgia, but Georgian officials are convinced that Russian services are making an active effort to spread false information designed to undercut the Saakashvili government and to deflect responsibility for provocative actions away from Russia onto other alleged culprits. One particularly tangible example of disinformation serving Russian interests was a “Psychological Study” of Saakashvili widely disseminated by e-mail in January 2007 from an address purporting to be the “Georgian Association for Strategic and International Studies.” The study makes a number of highly prejudicial judgments about
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Saakashvili, and diagnoses him as suffering from an “expansive type of paranoid dysfunction...combined with narcissist type of hysteroid personality.” Post had never heard of the organization that distributed the study -- many recipients likely confused it with the respected Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, which receives support from the U.S. Embassy -- and a check of the Tbilisi street where it was supposedly located revealed that its address did not exist.

© Scoop Media

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