The version of events leading up to Georgia's August war with Russia outlined in a recently released report by an ad-hoc parliamentary commission jibed with the government's official line. But the report also criticized Georgian national security, defense and foreign affairs structures for failing to identify and respond to imminent threats.
The 200-page report, issued December 18 in Tbilisi, provides a detailed chronology of events that led to conflict with Russia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. In a live broadcast, Commission Chairman Paata Davitaia read the full text of the report. Holding that Georgia acted in response to a long-planned Russian aggression, the report ultimately didn't question President Mikheil Saakashvili's handling of the crisis. Rather, it lambasted isolated officials and agencies.
The brunt of non-partisan commission's criticism fell on the military. The lack of a proper retreat plan contributed to a chaotic pullback of the Georgian army, enabling the invading Russian army to capture a plethora of heavy Georgian military hardware, the Commission concluded.
The report also said that nation's reserve forces did not have any impact on the course of the fighting. "Due to poor management, the reserve system turned out to be completely inadequate and incompetent," the report stated.
The commission noted communication lapses within the defense rank and file, saying that strategic decisions and public statements were made on the fly. The report devoted several paragraphs to the statement of a dismissed general, Mamuka Kurashvili, who at the outset of the military confrontation declared that Georgia was acting to "restore the constitutional order." Kurashvili's ill-advised and improper remarks provided grist for Russia's propaganda machine.
The National Security Council also took hits for its failure to act on intelligence reports. "Georgian authorities construed Russian military exercises near Georgian borders ... and repeated attacks in the conflict zone as a traditional series of provocations," the report said.
The report was based on over two months of testimony given by army commanders and top officials, including Saakashvili. Former Ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, the only person to testify who contradicted the Saakashvili administration's account of the war, ended up being accused of negligence for his supposed failure to warn Tbilisi of brewing trouble. In his controversial testimony, Kitsmarishvili claimed that the Saakashvili administration had long harbored plans to subdue renegade South Ossetia by force. Erstwhile Saakashvili ally, Kitsmarishvili told the commission that Tbilisi put the plan into action after allegedly receiving "a green light" from its patrons in Washington. The commission's report called on Prosecutor's Office to start a probe into these allegations.
After the report's release, Kitsmarishvili denounced its findings as a "farce" aimed at "pulling the wool over the eyes of" both Georgian society and the country's Western allies. Many opposition politicians also suspect the report's findings to be biased - designed to exonerate Saakashvili.
The Commission's report contained several recommendations on how to fix flaws in the defense and national security establishments. In order to increase accountability and transparency in these areas, the report called for setting up a parliamentary mission to oversee relevant reforms. The Commission also called on the prosecutors to investigate reports of war crimes.
The report holds that Georgia was acting in defense, but Davitaia, the commission chairman, was caught on camera saying that Saakashvili's administration made the first move toward the conflict. "They [Georgian government] started the war and it started because during all these years their policy has been erroneous," Davitaia said when door-stepped by a reporter of opposition-minded television channel Kavkasia. "They sparked Russian aggression and let nobody think that in the course of interrogations somebody wrote questions for me," he added.
Kavkasia aired the footage on the same day as the commission issued its report. Administration critics were quick to describe the video comments as a proof that the commission was essentially in Saakashvili's pocket. In his later remarks, Davitaia claimed his words were taken out of context. He said he had been referring to the actions taken by Georgian authorities in the face of intensified attacks on Georgian villages and positions in South Ossetia.
Editor's Note: Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.