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Georgia in Leaked US Embassy Cables
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 29 Nov.'10 / 18:41

Georgia is mentioned in some of the classified U.S. diplomatic cables, obtained and made public by WikiLeaks website on November 28, showing the issue of Georgia raised in various contexts in meetings between the U.S. senior diplomats and officials with their European and Russian counterparts, as well as during the talks between Israeli and Russian officials.

WikiLeaks has so far revealed only small part of a quarter-million U.S. embassy dispatches from around the world, saying that cables “will be released in stages over the next few months.”

In the documents, available on the website at the moment, Georgia is mainly mentioned in dispatches originating from U.S. embassies in Moscow, Paris and Baku. It was reported in the Georgian media and blogosphere on November 29, that some leaked dispatches also originate from the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi dating from the August, 2008 war period. These dispatches, however, have not yet appeared on the WikiLeaks website.

Mistral’s ‘Wrong Message’

One February, 2010 cable from the U.S. embassy in Paris details a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and then French Defense Minister Herve Morin. According to this diplomatic dispatch, the U.S. Defense Secretary expressed concerns about the French sale of the amphibious assault ship, Mistral, to Russia

“He [Gates] told Morin that because of Sarkozy's involvement in brokering a ceasefire in Georgia, which Russia was not fully honoring, the sale would send the wrong message to Russia and to our Allies in Central and East Europe,” the cable reads.

According to the cable, Morin, however, downplayed the matter suggesting that sale of the ship “would not make any difference with respect to Russian capabilities, as Russia's naval production ability was severely degraded.” Gates responded, according to the cable, that the U.S. concerns were not about Russia’s military capacity, “but about messaging.”
 
According to the same cable ex-defense minister of France said that extending the Alliance to Georgia would weaken Article 5, a provision providing common defense. Gates, according to the cable, expressed his preference for NATO to extend into the Mediterranean and “concurred with Morin that a bigger Alliance posed challenges.”

Georgia in U.S.-French Discussions

Georgia is also mentioned in a separate September, 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in France, which details meetings of Philip Gordon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, with senior French policy-makers in Paris.

At the time seizure of several cargo vessels en-route to Abkhazia by the Georgian coast guard in the Black Sea triggered tensions, accompanied by threats from Sokhumi that its forces would open fire and “destroy” the Georgian coast guard boats in case of further seizures.

According to the cable, the U.S. Assistant Secretary Gordon and President Sarkozy's senior foreign policy adviser, Jean-David Levitte, discussed these “dangerous” cases involving maritime incidents. Levitte, according to the cable, told Gordon that President Saakashvili had a French advisor – apparently referring to Georgian President’s close adviser on foreign and media affairs Raphaël Glucksmann – who had informed Paris that Georgian ships had orders to respond if fired upon. Levitte, according to the same cable, also said that the French message was that Georgia “must not respond to provocation, as that would only play into Russia's hands.”

According to the same diplomatic dispatch, Gordon said during the various meetings with the French policy-makers, that the U.S. “pursues a policy to support Georgia in the face of Russian pressure without encouraging President Saakashvili to act in ways that are unhelpful.”

'U.S. Not Rearming Georgia'

Several leaked confidential cables, where Georgia is mentioned, show that Russia has been raising its concerns over military cooperation between Georgia and U.S. during the talks with the U.S. officials. Positions, which are described in those several cables, are in line with those expressed by both the Russian and U.S. officials publicly on the matter.

One cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow details U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow’s talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow on September 30, 2009.

According to the cable, Russian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, asked Vershbow why Washington was providing military assistance to Georgia, which “threatens stability in the Caucasus region.”

Vershbow, according to the cable, responded that it was “a matter of principle” and that the U.S. would help Georgia protect its sovereignty. Vershbow, however, also said that the U.S. was not rearming Georgia, as Russia claimed it. He added that since the August, 2008 war, there “has been no U.S. lethal assistance to Georgia.”

According to the cable, Vershbow also said the U.S. “is proceeding with great care and focusing on training, education, and helping prepare Georgia” to participate in the Afghan operations – the position, which Vershbow publicly reiterated a month later, when he was visiting Tbilisi.

According to the same cable, Vershbow also told the Russian officials that “Georgia is a sovereign state with the right to self-defense. We do not accept any arms embargo, and we may provide weapons to Georgia in the future.”

At the time of Vershbow’s visit to Moscow a year ago, there have been some reports about Tbilisi willing to see monitors from the United States joining EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM). According to the same cable, the issue was raised by the Russian officials at the meeting with Vershbow warning that joining of the U.S. to the EUMM would be “a serious problem” for Russia, because “it would send the wrong message to President Saakashvili that he could use force again.” Vershbow declined these reports as speculation, according to the cable, but said that the U.S. would consider it if the EUMM did make such a request in the future.

The issue of U.S.-Georgia security cooperation was also raised by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his meeting with Chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin, according to the cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow sent in April, 2009. Lavrov mentioned Georgia, when telling the U.S. Senator that Moscow suspended sale of S-300 missiles to Iran. Lavrov said that nothing Russia had sold Iran had been used against anyone, whereas U.S. weapons provided to Georgia had been used against Russian soldiers.

Russia Appreciates ‘Limited Arms Sales to Georgia’ by Israel

Lavrov also raised the issue during the meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, in June, 2009, according to the cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Moscow. This cable reads that Lavrov expressed Russian appreciation for Israeli steps “to limit arms sales to Georgia to defensive weapons, but raised concern that other countries were supplying offensive weapons.”

A separate cable from February, 2010, which details visit of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Moscow, cites a Moscow-based Israeli diplomat saying that Israel, as a Russian partner, was "listening attentively" to Russia's concerns about weapons supplies to Georgia.  Israel has friendly relations with Georgia but the Russian relationship was also very important, the Israeli diplomat is cited in the cable, adding that both Russia and Israel were trying to come to an "understanding" on the matter.

Georgia is also mentioned in one cable, dispatched from the U.S. embassy in Baku, which details a meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns in Baku in February, 2010. According to the cable, dated with February 25, 2010, Aliyev warned about the negative effects of Turkey-Armenia protocol ratification without being proceeded by progress in Nagorno-Karabakh settlement; according to the cable, Aliyev “darkly predicted”, among other things, undermining of energy projects and damage to Georgia, including through lost transit income.

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