Grigol Vashadze, a former deputy foreign minister, who is now the culture minister, testified before the parliamentary commission studying the August war, on November 27.
He was summoned by the commission after Georgia’s former ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, mentioned Vashadze’s name in various contexts during his testimony before the commission on November 25.
Vashadze told the commission, referring to Kitsmarishvili’s allegations that the authorities in Georgia were preparing for the military operations against the breakaway regions, that “one should be either blind, or very biased” to back the Russian version of events.
“Erosi Kitsmarishvili has never participated in any meeting at which important decisions were made, or our strategy towards Russia, or our response to the Russian moves was discussed,” Vashadze said. “So he has no information, he has no facts, he has no right to speak about the matters involving what the Georgian authorities were planning.”
Vashadze, who served as deputy foreign minister between February, 2008 and November, 2008, was in charge of relations with Russia.
Vashadze said that Kitsmarishvili served as ambassador in Moscow for a very short period of time and he had no time to establish “serious contacts” and channel of sources there.
“He has never met any Russian official, who was a serious decision-maker, not counting one or two meetings with [Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory] Karasin,” Vashadze said. “An ambassador should be very self-confident to announce that he has a channel to exclusive and important sources of information when this ambassador is serving in a country for only a month and a half.”
Vashadze also addressed Kitsmarishvili’s allegation involving President Saakashvili’s remarks having plans to relocate Georgia’s capital from Tbilisi to Sokhumi by August, 2008. Kitsmarishvili told the commission that these remarks were made on the plane on the way back to Tbilisi after meeting with Putin in Moscow in February, 2008. Kitsmarishvili said that he and other officials, including Gela Bezhuashvili, chief of the intelligence service; Grigol Vashadze, the deputy foreign minister and Eka Sharashidze, the economy minister, were present there.
“The President of Georgia has never said in any type of meeting in my presence about relocation of the Georgia’s capital from Tbilisi to Sokhumi,” Vashadze said. “By the way, Abkhazia is part of Georgia and even if we had such plan I do not understand the logic why these [remarks by the President] would have been an indication that we were preparing for the war. Anyway such a conversation has never taken place.”
Vashadze also said that he, as a person in charge of the Russian direction within the Foreign Ministry, was receiving information from the ambassador about his activities in Moscow. “But I have never received any information from him which had any crucial importance,” he said.
He noted that Kitsmarishvili was meeting with some “low-key Russian oligarchs” discussing with them potential investments in Georgia. “But Mr. Kitsmarishvili either did not know or did not want to know that the Russian leadership had a veto on resuming economic relations with Georgia,” Vashadze said.
Kitsmarishvili in his testimony said that because of the Georgian leadership’s indifference towards relations with Russia, a planned visit of Sergey Naryshkin, head of the Russian President’s administration, in Tbilisi was thwarted in July, 2008. Deputy Foreign Minister, Giga Bokeria, told the commission on the matter on November 25 that although there was information that Naryshkin wanted to visit Tbilisi, the information itself eventually was not confirmed.
Vashadze told the commission on the matter that he double-checked this information with other diplomats in the Georgian embassy in Moscow, but they did not confirm it.
Vashadze also said that when the President requested him to take the post of deputy foreign minister and to be in charge of the Russian direction in February, 2008, the major instruction was to undertaken all the efforts possible to improve ties with Russia. Vashadze, who has duel Georgian-Russian citizenship lived in Russia for thirty years and worked for the Soviet Foreign Ministry in 80s.
He told the commission that despite Georgia’s efforts, Moscow’s moves in respect of separatist regions, especially starting from spring, 2008 were directed towards undermining attempts to normalize ties.
Vashadze said that starting from July, 2008 when he said number of attacks was carried out by the South Ossetian militias, “developments went beyond even the Russians’ control.”
“The separatist started fierce fight for waging a war,” he said. “I do not know who was playing a lead role in this process, whether Russians or separatists themselves, it has no decisive importance for us.”
He also said that Tbilisi was offering Moscow meaningful solutions to the existing situation and these proposals envisaged interests of the Russian side as well.
“The most recent such proposal I myself presented to the Russian officials in Moscow on July 22,” Vashadze said, referring to the Tbilisi’s proposal, which according to the Georgian officials involved allowing IDPs to return to Gali and Ochamchire and introduction of international police force instead of the Russian peacekeepers in those districts.
He said that the proposal was rejected. He also said that the fact of existence of independent and sovereign Georgia in itself “is unacceptable for Russia.”
“So I think that our efforts to normalize ties with Russia were doomed for a failure,” he added.
In his testimony before the commission, Kitsmarishvili also said it was “a surprise” for him to find out that Grigol Vashadze, who he said was always “adhering to the peace line,” started to claim in late July that Georgian was capable of regaining control over South Ossetia “within hours, or within few days.”
Vashadze denied the allegation as “utter nonsense.”
“This [allegation] haს even become a source of laughter among the foreign diplomatic corps in Tbilisi,” Vashadze said. ”It is regretful when facts are so much distorted.”
In his testimony before the commission, Vashadze also recalled a conversation between President Saakashvili and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in St. Petersburg on June 6.
“At that meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes, President Saakashvili showed a map of the conflict zones in Georgia – and it became clear for us at that time that President Medvedev had no idea what it was all about; President Saakashvili also described Medvedev how many people were living there etc. And by the end of the conversation, Medvedev seemed to get interested with the matters and offered President Saakashvili a comprehensive working meeting sometime in August; that was accepted by President Saakashvili,” Vashadze said and added that Medvedev’s “sincere desire to hold the meeting” was then blocked by others in the Russian government.