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Defense Minister Testifies Before War Commission
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 27 Nov.'08 / 21:49

Defense Minister, Davit Kezerashvili, testified before the parliamentary commission studying the August war on November 27.

During his testimony he repeated those points put forth by other senior officials before the commission about the Russia’s intensified military build up in the breakaway regions starting from the spring, 2008. Kezerashvili, in this context, read out similar information provided by Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, during the hearings on November 26.

He said that although battle with Russia in August had been lost by Georgia, the war itself had not been lost.

“This was not a defeat, because Georgia is today independent and has the army, the government and the economy has not been collapse,” Kezerashvili said.

In his testimony Kezerashvili also addressed some of the allegations voiced by Georgia’s former ambassador to Moscow, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, during the commission hearings on November 25.

In particular, Kitsmarishvili claimed that in April during the meeting with President Saakashvili, which he said, was also attended by Kezerashvili, he warned against launch of military operation against the separatists regions. Kitsmarishvili also claimed that Kezerashvili allegedly said at that meeting that “we will not have such a strong army, which we have now, in next four years” and that the military operation in Abkhazia should have launched either in May.

“I have seen Mr. Kitsmarishvili only three times and these were not at meetings involving discussions; and no such conversation took place,” Kezerashvili said.

“We had no plans for military assault on the separatists regions; no such plans have been discussed,” Kezerashvili said. “We, however, had plan on how to act in case of provocations.”

Kezerashvili has also denied Kitsmarishvili’s allegation that military instructors from Israel were in Georgia helping to prepare potential assault on Abkhazia. “Not a single foreigner has ever taken part in any type of military planning,” Kezerashvili said.

“I really do not want to make political assessments, but I want to say this: Mr. Kitsmarishvili’s statements are absolutely similar to those made by the Russian military and political leadership,” the Defense Minister continued. “I think it is absolutely clear what we are dealing with.”

Below are other key points of public part of Kezerashvili’s testimony. He also spoke with the commission members behind the closed doors informing commission members about, as he said, sensitive military issues:

  • At about 11:10pm on August 7 I spoke with President Saakashvili and briefed him about the situation in the conflict zone and about the violation of the ceasefire by the South Ossetian side and about heavy shelling of the Georgian villages and the posts of Georgian peacekeeping forces. He told me his position that it was already impossible to tolerate it.
  • On August 7 I was receiving information that our peacekeepers were under fire and dieing there; we knew where the South Ossetian militias’ firing positions were and I requested the President to allow us to open the artillery fire to suppress those firing positions;
  • Then we received information about entry of Russia’s additional military convoy through the Roki Tunnel and the President informed me that he planned to order the chief of staff of the armed forces to fulfill those three tasks which you already know [to stop all type of military coming into Georgia from Russia; to suppress firing positions and to ensure security of the civilian population while implementing these orders;
  • The Georgian artillery opened fire at 11:55pm local time on August 7;
  • The order itself envisaged protection of civilians and to have maximally minimal casualties among civilians; I think that the Georgian army has fulfilled this order well;
  • The civilian population of Tskhinvali was mainly evacuated; inside Tskhinvali it was difficult to identify who was a militia and who was a civilian person; in most of the cases those militias in Tskhinvali did not wear uniforms and were dressed in civilian cloths;
  • Tskhinvali was under the Georgian forces full control 53 minutes after the order was issued to the special purpose units to advance towards Tskhinvali early on August 8; some pockets of resistance inside the town, however, still remained; I was twice inside Tskhinvali;
  • Problems, however, started on August 9 when massive air strikes on Tskhinvali began; after that our troops had to retreat and counter-attack to enter inside Tskhinvali was already very difficult;
  • I have not given any military-related orders; that was not my business;
  • Civilians in the Georgian-controlled villages were under threat and at the same time more and more Russian military were coming into South Ossetia via Roki Tunnel;
  • Unfortunately we had problems in communication systems; this problem, however, did not exist at the level of brigades, as those brigades used state-of-the-art communication systems produced by [U.S. defense communications and information technology company] Harris Corp. Although it is possible to jam those communication systems, I don not know whether Russians used jamming devices. Problems related with communication persisted on a higher level, not on the brigade level. For that reason there have been staff changes in the communications department of the ministry; we are also retraining personnel to increase their qualification;
  • Georgia’s army was not prepared for conventional warfare, as it training was mainly focused on lower-scale military operations and anti-terrorist operations;
  • Georgia used cluster bombs only in an area between the Roki Tunnel and Java against the Russian military convoys to destroy their military hardware; as it turned out these strikes were very effective;
  • The system of reserve forces has failed; you know it was relatively a new project for us; the command of the reserve troops and the National Guard has failed; there was confusion and disorganization; one of the reasons was that the National Guard lacked experienced officers;
  • 8,000 reservists underwent training in 2006 and 35,000 reservists underwent training in 2007-2008 and total of GEL 50 million was spent on the program, which also involved equipment and infrastructure construction;
  • The Georgian army had rules of engagement and ordered to maximally prevent direct engagement with the Russian peacekeeping forces, except of the case if they opened fire in our direction; but at the same time I have to say that the South Ossetian militias were using the Russian peacekeepers base in Tskhinvali as a firing position and Russian peacekeepers were engaged in fire correction operations, passing locations of targets back to the South Ossetian militias;
  • Number of those willing to enroll in the military service has not decreased after the August war;
  • Total of 144 soldiers have been killed and 25 are considered missing; total of 1,198 soldiers have been wounded
  • Significant damage has been inflicted on the Georgian defense infrastructure and I will give you details at the closed-door session.

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