The Kremlin aims at regime change in Georgia “through internal disorders and destabilization”, Gela Bezhuashvili, the chief of Georgian intelligence service, told lawmakers on March 20.
Speaking at a hearing of the parliamentary committee for defense and security Bezhuashvili suggested that in a short-term period Russia would likely try to mount pressure on Georgia through inciting internal destabilization rather than through use of direct military force.
“Information available for us does not give us a reason to think that a large-scale aggression is expected from Russia in the near future,” he said, but also added: “A scenario of resumption of military operations against Georgia exists and such a scenario has quite strong and influential lobby within the Russia’s governmental circles; but as for today it is considered [in Moscow] to mount pressure on Georgia through other means – the interest is being shaped [in Moscow] to remove the Georgian authorities through internal disorders and destabilization.”
“It is reliable information, according to which Russia has an interest to provoke destabilization in Georgia, because it will be easier to rule unstable Georgia,” he continued. “As far as such interest persists, there also is an action plan on how they [the Russian authorities] will act in case of destabilization and internal disorders. I am sure that the funds have already been allocated, people are already working and a special headquarters has already been established [in Russia]. Even if I knew whom they will rely on, I would not have said it today; but we are watching the process and some things are emerging.”
The government and ruling party officials have intensified recently warnings over what they call Russia’s attempts to undermine Georgia’s statehood from within the country. At least one lawmaker from the parliamentary minority group, Gia Tortladze, has also joined the suggestions of this kind. Politicians from opposition parties outside the parliament, however, downplay the rhetoric as an attempt to scare off public from the protest rallies planned to be launched from April 9 to demand President Saakashvili’s resignation. They also say that instead of “empty talking” on the matter, the authorities should produce firm evidence if they have any.
Without documented evidence it is inappropriate to talk on concrete political forces, MP Givi Targamadze of the ruling party, who chairs the parliamentary committee for defense and security, told journalists after the hearing, “but in general we should watch closely the process, because as far as there is such interests in Moscow, I am sure some people will emerge including among our political groups, which will try to play with those interests.”
Gela Bezhuashvili told lawmakers Moscow “believes that control over Georgia is an issue of vital importance and it is unlikely that this approach will change despite the financial crisis in Russia.”
He said that Russia’s goals towards Georgia has not changed and include: preserving places of a potential flashpoints in Georgia – referring to Abkhazia and South Ossetia; triggering political and economic destabilization in Georgia; provoke “a sense of fear and capitulant mood” among the public.
On the international front, Bezhuashvili continued, Russia had four key goals in respect of Georgia: to justify aggressive policy against Georgia; to achieve the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; to isolate Georgia and to achieve its recognition as the sphere of its influence by the international community. He said that both Russian special services and representatives of diplomatic corps were involved in achieving these goals.
He said that Russia had spent USD 20 million in 2008 for the service provided by number of PR consultancy firms for those purposes; Bezhuashvili listed Ketchum; Kreab Gavin Anderson; GPlus; Alston & Bird LLP, among the lobbying firms, he said, were hired by Moscow. The Georgian government was also using service of PR firms, including the one of Brussels-based Aspect Consulting.
Meanwhile, Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, said on March 20, that there were two key factors of stability in Georgia – “strong government and a strong and responsible opposition.” He made the remarks at a meeting with a group of intelligentsia, as part of series of his meetings with various professional groups held in recent days to explain the authorities’ policies.