Through the operation in Kodori Gorge to crack down on militia fighters, the Georgian authorizes not only shattered the long-standing status quo in Abkhazia, but also gained the upper hand to attack those opposition parties that have condemned the government for sending troops to the troubled gorge.
“We had total support [during the operation in Kodori Gorge]. I mean the support of the people; politicians of course have different kinds of opinions and some of them even work against Georgian interests,” President Saakashvili said on August 2.
MP Davit Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights party and Shalva Natelashvili, leader of Labor Party, became major targets of the authorities’ criticism. These two opposition leaders were the most outspoken critics of the government’s decision to send troops to Kodori Gorge after rebel warlord Emzar Kvitsiani, who is now wanted, announced his defiance towards the central authorities on July 22.
Gamkrelidze accused the authorities of provoking Kvitsiani into announcing his defiance against Tbilisi. He further alleged that Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili specifically was behind the developments in Kodori Gorge, with the aim of boosting his own political ambitions. Meanwhile, the flamboyant Shalva Natelashvili condemned the Kodori operation as “genocide of [our] own people” and called on the authorities’ troops to surrender their arms to avoid bloodshed.
Okruashvili, who was personally engaged in the Kodori operation, said on July 31 that Gamkrelidze and Natelashvili have voiced “inhuman, non-patriotic, and treacherous positions.”
“When Gamkrelidze and Natelashvili were calling on [government] forces to surrender their arms, it was equal to high treason,” he added.
Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, leader of the opposition Freedom Party, also adheres to the position that sending troops was a mistake. He denounced those opposition parties that hailed the “prompt end of the operation with minimal casualties,” including the Republicans and Conservatives.
Meanwhile, both the Republican and Conservative parties tried to downplay the authorities merit in the prompt completion of the Kodori operation.
“If not for the position of the Patriarch [of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II, who called for restraint in Kodori], if not for the opposition and society’s direct order to the authorities not to shed blood, it would have been a more bloody operation. The reaction of the opposition, society, and the Patriarch has made the authorities cautious. That is why casualties were minimal,” said MP Davit Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party.
Leader of the Conservative Party MP Koba Davitashvili thanked both the members of militia group and government troops for “showing mercy towards each other.”
Political analysts Ia Antadze of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - Georgian Service says that developments in Kodori Gorge and the authorities’ well-prepared reaction to the problem have triggered confusion among the most of the opposition parties.
“It seemed to me that the opposition was confused, because on the one hand it was clear that from the legal point of view the authorities had every right to send troops there [to crack down on rebel militia fighters], but on the other hand it seemed that they did not want to voice a position similar to that of the authorities,” Ia Antadze told Civil Georgia.
Meanwhile, Irakli Batiashvili of the opposition Forward Georgia party was arrested on July 29 and charged with having links to a coup attempt staged by wanted warlord Emzar Kvitsiani. Tapped phone conversations between Kvitsiani and Batiashvili, in which the latter encourages Kvitsiani and recommends that he use televised interviews to call on government troops not to use their weapons in Kodori, was put forth by prosecutors as part of the evidence proving Batiashvili’s link to an alleged coup attempt.
Batiashvili, an outspoken critic of the authorities who served as Georgia’s security chief in early 90s, is one of the founders of the Forward Georgia party, which unites some of the officials from ex-President Shevardnadze’s administration.
Batiashvili denied the charges and said that his arrest was politically-motivated. Other opposition politicians also share this opinion.
“This arrest was made just to terrorize [the authorities’] opponents,” MP Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative Party said.
“If the tapped phone conversation is the only evidence of the prosecutors, then I can not see any legal reason for the arrest,” MP Davit Berdzenishvili of the opposition Republican Party said.
Despite certain differences in their positions, all opposition parties agree that a public probe into the Kodori operation should now begin in order to transparently assess developments and to investigate whether or not the force used by authorities was appropriate. The opposition is also pushing for a probe into the circumstances that resulted in the death of one civilian, who was killed during the clash between government troops and militia members.