Shmagi Telia, commander of the Georgian land forces, testified before the court as a prosecution witness on November 3 into the trial over what is known as Mukhrovani mutiny.
Telia was summoned by the prosecution as a witness because the commander of the land forces met with Mukhrovani-based tank battalion commander, Shota (Mamuka) Gorgiashvili, after the latter declared disobedience.
Telia told the court that on May 5, 2009, sometime between 6am and 7am, he was contacted by the command of the Mukhrovani-based National Guard unit and informed that “something was going on” in the tank battalion.
Tank battalion, under the command of Shota Gorgiashvili, originally was based in Gori, but his unit was relocated from its permanent place of location after the August war and was temporarily based in Mukhrovani, sharing the base with the unit of the National Guard.
Telia told the court that he was informed by the National Guard unit’s command that personnel of the tank battalion was armed and that “unknown persons” and military hardware was “moving around” in the unit’s territory. He said that after receiving this information, he decided to clarify the situation directly with tank battalion commander, but failed to contact with Gorgiashvili. After informing his superiors about the information available for him, Telia said, he headed to Mukhrovani along with his aide, Sergeant Tseruashvili.
After entering the unit’s territory, Telia continued, he was stopped by unknown civilians with whom he had a brief verbal argument after which they accompanied him to the base headquarters. Telia told the court that he wanted to enter into the room of the battalion commander, but was barred by unknown civilians and was told to enter into another room where he met with Gorgiashvili.
During the previous court hearings in October, many witnesses summoned by the prosecution, who at that time served in Mukhrovani, told the court that they had seen several (maximum of seventeen) “unknown armed men” dressed in plain cloths on the territory of the unit. According to the prosecutors armed civilians on the base territory were coup plotters helping Koba Otanadze and other masterminds. Some of those civilians, who allegedly were in Mukhrovani on May 5, are now among the defendants facing coup plot charges. They deny charges and refused to testify before the court.
Telia told the court, that shortly after he started conversation with Gorgiashvili, Levan Amiridze, commander of the Tbilisi-based rangers’ battalion, also joined them.
Both Gorgiashvili and Amiridze face charges related with coup plotting and disobedience. Both of them pleaded guilty of disobedience, but deny coup allegations.
“We had an unpleasant conversation,” Telia said.
The conversation was about, as Telia put it, “internal [army] problems.” He said that during the conversation Gorgiashvili and Amiridze “expressed discontent about internal [army] issues, general inspection unit and military police, as well as about military parade.”
Telia said that a military parade to mark Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26 was planned at that time. The plan for holding the parade was eventually scrapped by the authorities.
During the previous court hearings held in October, about three dozen of former or current servicemen were questioned, who at the time served either in Mukhrovani or in Tbilisi-based rangers’ units. All of them were the prosecution witnesses. Most of the witnesses, who at the time served in Mukhrovani, told the court that the battalion commander Gorgiashvili announced at a gathering of the battalion personal early on May 5 that participation in the military parade after the defeat in the August war was unacceptable for him and for that reason he was announcing disobedience. They also said that the commander told the servicemen, that those who disagreed with him were free to leave the base. Most of the witnesses also said that many soldiers decided to leave the base territory only after it was announced in the noon news program of Rustavi 2 TV that Mukhrovani unit “mutinied.” But several witnesses also said that they decided to leave shortly after the commander’s announcement about the disobedience and before doing so they informed about their decision the commander, who did not object their decision and let them go.
During the November 3 hearing Telia reiterated his testimony given to investigator during the preliminary investigation and said that both Amiridze and Gorgiashvili told him during the meeting that it was not appropriate to hold the military parade.
Asked by judge Jemal Kopaliani concretely what Gorgiashvili and Amiridze were demanding, or whether they were putting forth any ultimatum, Telia responded that it remained unclear for him what exactly they were demanding.
“They failed to give me a concrete response what they were demanding… They were saying that they were announcing disobedience, but I did not receive a comprehensive answer on a question - why,” Telia added.
Telia said that at one point Amiridze and Gorgiashvili tried to raise political issues during the conversation (opposition’s protest rallies were ongoing at that time) by asking him if “I liked the current political situation”; Telia said he refused to speak on politics with two commanders and the matter was not discussed.
He also said that in general post-war condition of the army was not positive and he described it as “neurotic.” Telia also said that there was some sense of discontent among tank battalion members because their unit was re-located from Gori to Mukhrovani, as most of the battalion personnel were locals living in Gori and Shida Kartli region.
Telia also told the court that before meeting with Gorgiashvili and before entering into the base territory, he had information according to which the tank battalion intended to leave the base territory. He, however, also said that although he had seen two tank and an infantry armored vehicle out of their hangars, he had not seen any “convoy of military hardware” prepared for marching and for leaving the base territory. He also said that during conversation with Gorgiashvili, the latter told him he had no intention to order his soldiers to leave the base and to take any actions. Other witnesses also told the court during the previous hearings that Gorgiashvili said he would not order to take any actions, or to leave the base territory, or to open fire.
Telia told the court that as commander of the land forces issued four orders to Gorgiashvili: to return military hardware back to hangars; to expel unknown, armed civilian personal from the base territory; to disarm the battalion personnel and to order the personnel to go back to barracks.
“Only one tank was removed from its position after my orders; while other orders remained unfulfilled,” he said.
He also said that after the conversation with Gorgiashvili and Amiridze he left the base territory and reported about the situation to then defense minister David Sikharulidze, who was outside the base. Telia said that at that time the fourth brigade of the armed forces was already mobilized outside the Mukhrovani unit ready to take actions if needed. Telia said that after reporting to the defense minister, he returned back to the base and again met with Gorgiashvili. He said that situation when he returned was somewhat changed as some personnel of the battalion were no longer armed.
In his testimony given to investigator during the preliminary investigation, Telia says that “it was not ruled out” that Koba Kobaladze, Gia Krialashvili and Koba Otanadze were in the room of the battalion commander at the time when he was speaking with Gorgiashvili and Amiridze. These three men were named by the prosecution as among the masterminds of the alleged mutiny and coup attempt.
Asked by Kobaladze’s defense lawyer why did he suppose that Kobaladze could have been in the room, where he was barred from entry, Telia responded that it was his “assumption.” He said that during the conversation Gorgiashvili and Amiridze for number of times left the room and entered into the commander’s room and he had an impression that they were consulting with someone in that room. He, however, did not say that he had seen those three men.
Some of the witnesses, who were questioned by the court during the hearings in October, said they had seen Otanadze and Krialashvili in the room of the battalion commander; but no one said having seen Kobaladze there.
In his testimony Telia also said that he knew both Gorgiashvili and Amiridze personally for years and would describe them “positively.” He also said that on they “fought seriously” during the August war and on Gorgiashvili he said the former commander had never before gave “illegal orders” to his soldiers.
During the questioning, Gorgiashvili asked Telia if he remembered the part of their conversation in Mukhrovani when Telia told him that it was not an easy situation in the country with the Russian forces standing in Akhalgori, 40 kilometers away from Tbilisi. “You asked me what would have I done in case of attack by Russians and I told you I was ready to go in the toughest place to fulfill the toughest task; do you confirm such conversation took place between us?” Gorgiashvili asked Telia and the latter confirmed it was true.