National Security Council Chief Testifies Before War Commission
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 28 Oct.'08 / 14:05

Alexandre Lomaia, the secretary of the National Security Council, told the parliamentary commission studying the August war that “the neutralization of firing positions” inside Tskhinvali was the objective, not the seizure of the town itself.

The testimony by Lomaia on October 27 before the commission was divided into two parts – one which was public and aired live by the public TV’s second channel and the  other which was held behind closed-doors.

Below are the key points of Lomaia’s testimony:

  • One of the first questions asked to Lomaia was about a statement made by a senior Georgian Ministry of Defense official, Mamuka Kurashvili, who said in televised remarks before midnight on August 7 that Georgian “power-wielding bodies” had “decided to restore constitutional order” in the Tskhinvali region. Lomaia said in response: General Kurashvili’s statement was not sanctioned; he had no authority to make that statement and the statement itself was not correct in essence. He [Kurashvili] was verbally reprimanded by the Defense Ministry.
  • At 1pm on August 7, members of the National Security Council - not all of them were present - met the president, and the interior minister briefed the session that they had information that Russian units were starting to move into South Ossetia; but at that point it was not fully clear whether they were North Caucasian volunteers or regular troops… We knew about the movement of military hardware and personnel, but we were not fully sure at that point whether they were regular army units;
  • On July 29 South Ossetian militias used for the first time artillery with a caliber larger than 82mm, which was banned.
  • On August 7 at the National Security Council session, the president asked us if the red line had been crossed. Some isolated cases of shooting by the separatists and the illegal sending of some units into South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia had taken place in the past as well, but the combination of all the factors was already alarming.
  • The red line was beyond which a real intervention starts and a real threat is posed to civilians – and our western partners knew about it – a combination of these two factors was in place at that time.
  • So we told the president that the red line had been crossed – that was at about 1pm, August 7.
  • Then Temur Iakobashvili [the state minister for reintegration] was sent to Tskhinvali; he tried in vain to convince the separatists to hold a meeting in an attempt to defuse tensions – as far as I remember, he was in Tskhinvali from 3pm to 6pm [on August 7].
  • Our ceasefire announced in the evening by the president did not yield any results, as attacks were renewed by the separatist forces at about 8:30pm on August 7.
  • Then the decision was made, as you know, by the supreme commander [President Saakashvili]... That’s all there is about August 7 and developments preceeding our counter-attack and response to Russian aggression.
  • Lomaia was asked to whom did the president give orders through a secure line on the night of August 7 [State Minister Temur Iakobashvili told the commission earlier that he had heard President Saakashvili giving three orders via a secured line: 1. Stop a convoy of Russian tanks advancing on Tskhinvali; 2. neutralize firing positions from where our positions were being targeted; 3. Minimal casualties among civilians; Iakobashvili, however, said he did not know whom Saakashvili was speaking with]. Lomaia responded to that question: The president gave orders to the Armed Forces and he had contacts with relevant structures.
  • The logic of our actions [on August 7] was the following: 1. Neutralize firing positions in the outskirts of Tskhinvali and in Tskhinvali – fire was coming from the centre of Tskhinvali, from around administrative buildings; 2. Try to advance closer to Java and then to Roki Tunnel as soon as possible by circling around Tskhinvali.
  • Here Lomaia was asked by the commission chairman, MP Paata Davitaia: “going inside Tskhinvali” was not an objective? Lomaia responded: No. In respect of Tskhinvali, [the objective was] only to neutralize firing positions from where Georgian positions were being targeted. That was the task.
  • Seizing Tskhinvali was not a military pbjective;
  • Our armed forces used GRAD rocket launchers only on the Verkhny Garadok district of Tskhinvali, where [separatist] artillery was deployed; it is not a civilian area; as far as Tskhinvali centre is concerned – where administrative buildings are located – modern, precision targeting weapons were used, in particular, DANA [a self-propelled artillery gun];
  • The hierarchy of possible scenarios of developments that we considered [before the war] was as follows: 1. The highest possibility was military actions in Abkhazia, in particular in the Kodori Gorge; 2. Military action in the Tskhinvali region; 3. What in fact happened – occupation of Georgia’s territory by Russia, wherein the 50% of the country was either occupied or the key roads leading to those territories were controlled by the Russians – the probability of such a scenario was the lowest in the hierarchy of our possible scenarios of developments.
  • Over 80,000 Russian servicemen were involved in all operations;
  • Russia used in the operation about a third of its combat-capable land forces. We have a list of military units involved in the operation – I can give you the data provided by our partners about the matter at the closed-door session.
  • Such a scenario of developments was a shock and a surprise even for stronger intelligence services [of foreign countries].
  • We can suppose that a political decision [on full-scale military intervention] was made in Russia on August 9 when Putin arrived in Vladikavkaz; it seems that he was informed about the heavy damage inflicted on the Russian forces [already fighting in South Ossetia] and it seems that the decision was taken after that to put into operation the plan involving a full-scale intervention.
  • Our response would have been enough to deal with the force the Russians had at the initial stage on the border [a reference to 8,000 troops involved in military exercises - Kavkaz 2008 - in the North Caucasus].
  • Would our response be adequate if we knew in advance that a full-scale assault was expected? We should be honest and we have to say that we have the smallest army in the region in terms of numbers and we confronted the third largest army in terms of numbers in the world.
  • No one had any illusion that our army would defeat the Russian army. Our army’s political goal was to hinder the advance of the Russian troops, to allow diplomats and politicians to mobilize international attention and involvement to stop the aggression;
  • The Georgian armed forces in fact fulfilled this task with success.
  • After the full-scale assault started, we had two options – Afghanization or an organized retreat. The political decision was made to retreat in an organized manner.
  • Our western partners, both in Europe and Washington, were telling us that there would be provocations, but we should not respond – that was fully in line with our stance; there was full understanding among our western partners that there was also a red line;
  • Our western partners knew about the incursion of the Russian forces early on August 7;
  • The idea itself of reserve troops, I think, was faulty;
  • Today we do not possess any concrete indication of a military nature that would indicate possible [geographical] expansion of Russian occupation; but there is one aspect to be taken into consideration – Russia’s unpredictability; neither we nor any foreign intelligence service had any information about Russia’s expected full-scale intervention and occupation of a large part of Georgia’s territory, but you know that it happened. EU monitors are deployed now in the area[s] [adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia], which significantly reduces the chance for [the occupation's geographical] expansion [beyond the breakaway regions];
  • Lomaia was asked about the information provided by the intelligence chief saying that his agency informed the authorities about possible Russian investments in one of “the strategic sectors” – the energy sector. Lomaia responded: The only thing I can tell you is that after the military phase of aggression was over, we have really received such information from the intelligence service and we are studying this information now. You know that the Russian capital owns some serious assets in Georgia and we have not witnessed any problems created by them during the war;
  • Lomaia was asked to explain the reason behind blocking of the websites on the .ru domain. Lomaia responded: You know that accessibility to websites is up to private internet provider firms and it was their own initiative – by the way not all of them did so. The state structures had nothing to do with that decision. You know that the president has the right to issue a relevant order in this respect in connection to martial law, but no such measures were taken. Some of the providers just thought it was their civil duty to do so, because the Russian media, including online media is controlled by the authorities there, and the media was used for a propaganda war. [Although websites on .ru domain have been unblocked, the Russian TV stations carrying news still remain blocked. Temur Iakobashvili said in a newspaper interview in late August that it was his idea to block the Russian TV stations].

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