Cablegate: Georgia: South Ossetia Sitrep 2: Georgia Claims

DE RUEHSI #1341/01 2211005
P 081005Z AUG 08




E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/08/2018



1. (C) Summary: President Saakashvili in an August 8
conversation with the Ambassador, and Foreign Minister Eka
Tkeshelashvili in a briefing to the diplomatic corps, claimed
that Georgia now controlled most of South Ossetia, including
Tskhinvali, although fighting was continuing near the
northern town of Dzhava. They also reported that Russian
aircraft had dropped bombs on several targets in Georgia,
outside of the conflict zone, at two locations in the center
of Gori and dropped ordnance on a radar installation near
Gori and a police station in Kareli. There are uncofirmed
Georgian claims that they downed a Russian aircraft; in a
statement, the Russian MFA denied this. Fighting had
continued throughout the night of August 7, resuming four
hours after President Saakashvili unilaterally declared a
cease-fire at 1900. In a second address August 8, he called
on the international community to help repel this "open
Russian aggression" and announced a general mobilization of
reserves. Meanwhile, Russian statements have accused the
Georgians of targeting Russian peacekeepers; the Georgians
argue that the South Ossetians are firing on the Russian
peacekeepers as a provocation. The Georgians have announced
that a safe corridor and ceasefire will be established from 3
to 6 pm local time for all civilians interested in leaving
Tskhinvali to do so. During the night of August 8, four
short range ballistic missiles were fired from within Russia
toward Tskhinvali.

2. (C) We understand that at this point the Georgians control
75 percent of Tskhinvali and 11 villages around it.
Journalists report that Georgian forces are moving toward the
Roki tunnel. That road has been cratered by Georgian
aircraft to make it difficult. We are told fighting
continues with Russian fighters north of Tskhinvali; it is
not clear if they are regular army or North Caucasian
irregulars. Saakashvili has said that Georgia had no
intention of getting into this fight, but was provoked by the
South Ossetians and had to respond to protect Georgian
citizens and territory. Meanwhile, the Georgian National
Security Council (NSC) has formally requested 1,000 of its
combat troops in Iraq be returned to Georgia within 72 hours.
End Summary.

3. (C) Comment: All the evidence available to the country
team supports Saakashvili's statement that this fight was not
Georgia's original intention. Key Georgian officials who
would have had responsibility for an attack on South Ossetia
have been on leave, and the Georgians only began mobilizing
August 7 once the attack was well underway. As late as 2230
last night Georgian MOD and MFA officials were still hopeful
that the unilateral cease-fire announced by President
Saakashvili would hold. Only when the South Ossetians opened
up with artillery on Georgian villages, did the offensive to
take Tskhinvali begin. Post has eyes on the ground at the
Ministry of Interior command post in Tbilisi and will
continue to provide updates. The Embassy held an EAC and
will hold another to reasses the situation by COB. We have
issued a warden message and are looking at the situation very
carefully. If the Georgians are right, and the fighting is
mainly over, the real unknown is what the Russian role will
be and whether there is potential for the conflict to expand.
End comment.

Current Situation

4. (C) Saakashvili, who told the Ambassador that he was in
Gori when a Russian bomb fell in the city center, confirmed
that the Georgians had not decided to move ahead until the
shelling intensified and the Russians were seen to be
amassing forces on the northern side of the Roki Tunnel. He
said that the Georgian military action had been successful,
Tskhinvali was mainly under Georgian control and that
reservists would be brought in to defend the city while armed
forces were moved further north to continue the fighting.
According to Saakashvili, the EU was sending in Carl Bildt
and the Lithuanian Foreign Minister to Tbilisi. Although
most in the Georgian government believed that the fighting
had started as a ploy of de facto leader Kokoity, Saakashvili
was now concerned that this might have been a Russian pretext
and a further attack could be expected. The Foreign Minister
briefed the diplomatic corps on the situation, noting that
"all red lines had been crossed," but expressing hope that
negotiations could take place and noting that a full amnesty
would be offered to anyone involved in the fighting. She
called on the international community to put pressure on the
Russian Government to take no action.

TBILISI 00001341 002 OF 002

5. (C) The battle in South Ossetia took place throughout the
night of August 7. During the night, four short range
ballistic missiles were fired from within Russia toward
Tskhinvali. On August 8, Russian aircraft flew into Georgian
airspace in central Georgia and dropped ordnance on a radar
installation near Gori and a police station in Kareli. Post
understands that at this point the Georgians control 75
percent of Tskhinvali and 11 villages around it. Journalists
report that Georgian forces are moving toward the Roki
tunnel. That road has been cratered by Georgian aircraft to
make it difficult to navigate with vehicles. We are told
fighting continues with Russian fighters north of Tskhinvali.
It is not clear if they are regular army or North Caucasian
irregulars, as an MOIA spokesman said that approximately 1500
uniformed, unidentified forces with tanks and artillery
entered South Ossetia via the Roki tunnel on August 8 at
0200. Reports indicate many casualties, but none are reliably
accurate. State Minister of Conflict Settlement and
Reintegration Temuri Yakobashvili said again on August 8 that
Georgia will grant amnesty to all Ossetian fighters.

Chronology of Events

6. (C) On August 7 at 1925 Yakobashvili returned from the
conflict zone and the Ambassador that the South Ossetians
continued to shoot at the Georgian villages despite the
announcement of the cease-fire. Yakobashvili said that he
waited with General Kulakhmetov, the Head of the Russian
peacekeepers in Tskhinvali for some time for the South
Ossetians to show up. Kulakhmetov tried to call Chochiev,
and other South Ossetians to get them together with
Yakobashvili, but they did not respond. Kulakhmetov said, he
"does not control anything" and that the South Ossetians were
"shooting at the Georgians behind my back." Yakobashvili
said that the Russians originally agreed to host a bilateral
meeting with the Ossetians and the Georgians outside the JCC.
Popov came to Georgia for this purpose and announced
publicly it was his intention to do so. Then, the Russians
flipped and said the meeting should be under the JCC.
Yakobashvili said it was the JCC system that had caused the
mess and it was time for real face to face talks.

7. (C) OSCE observers on the ground in Tskhinvali told Poloff
that Georgia's attack on Tskhinvali began at 2335 on August 7
despite the cease-fire declared at 1900. The shelling
intensified at 2345, with the Georgians possibly using large
caliber mortars and GRAD artillery, with impacts every 15-20
seconds, and the South Ossetians returning fire. By
observers' calculations, by 0035 there were at least 100 hits
on the city of Tskhinvali, some of them damaging the OSCE
field office there. Currently, the OSCE has electricity, but
part of the building has sustained damage and the internet is
down. There was a lull in the activity between 0145 and
0415, when the situation began to re-intensify, and by 0615
loud explosions could be heard. The number of casualties are
unknown as emergency services are unable to move freely on
the ground due to firing. Most local residents are confined
to cellars and basements waiting for calm to return.

8. (C) At approximately 0400 on August 8, the Georgian
National Security Council asked the U.S. for the return of
1,000 of its troops from Iraq, 500 within the next 24 hours,
and the remainder within 48 hours. A regularly scheduled
rotator flight may return up to 250 troops to Georgia by this
afternoon. (Note: USG agreement with the GOG provides for
emergency return of 1,000 troops within 96 hours. End note.)
Later, Saakashvili announced a general mobilization of all
reserves. In a second address, he called Russia's actions
"open aggression" and called on the international community
to help repel it.

9. (C) Conversely, the Russians have said they believe
Georgian forces are targeting Russian peacekeepers. They
have told the Georgians that in view of these attacks Georgia
bears responsibility for anything that might follow. The
Georgians have replied that they are avoiding any conflict
with the peacekeepers as well as civilians. The Georgians
believe the South Ossetians are targeting the Russians to
provoke a bigger Georgian-Russian conflict.

10. (C) The South Ossetians are reportedly now accusing the
Russians of betraying them. One plausible explanation for
all this is that de facto leader Kokoity decided to roll the
dice and stimulate a conflict with the Georgians in hopes of
bringing in the Russians and thereby saving himself or
enhancing his position. Reports that Kokoity has left
Tskhinvali remain unconfirmed.

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