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Georgian Minister Rules Out Probe Into Incriminating Tapes

Nika Rurua, Georgia's minister of culture
Nika Rurua, Georgia's minister of culture
The Georgian authorities have rejected calls by opposition parties for an investigation into the authenticity of two tape-recordings of telephone conversations that suggest that President Mikheil Saakashvili may have been behind the screening on March 13 by the privately owned but pro-government television channel Imedi of a mock television news program chronicling a new Russian invasion of Georgia that opposition politicians sought to take advantage of to seize power with the Kremlin's backing.

Saakashvili said on March 14 that he thinks the broadcast "should have been done differently," with a running line throughout warning that the events shown were only simulated.

Georgian Minister of Culture Nika Rurua insisted on March 19 that there can be no doubt the two recordings were fabricated by Russia's Federal Security Service. The voices of the interlocutors in the second conversation, which must have taken place after the controversial program was broadcast, are apparently those of Rurua and Saakashvili. The former asks whether the furor triggered by the broadcast has died down; the latter says he has called Imedi General Director Giorgi Arveladze to tell him the TV station should have made it clear to viewers that the chain of events portrayed was hypothetical and not real.

That conversation, if genuine, calls into question the authenticity of the first one, posted on the Internet on March 16 and clearly recorded before the report was screened on March 13. The voices of the man and woman bear a marked resemblance to those of Arveladze and Imedi news presenter Eka Tsamalashvili. The woman argues that there should be a running line alerting viewers that the events were simulated; the man tells her that "Misha," as the president is universally known, does not want any caption that would detract from the emotional impact of the broadcast.

Giorgi Arveladze
Caucasus Press on March 17 quoted Arveladze as admitting that the voice was indeed his but denying that any such telephone conversation occurred. He suggested that the tape had been prepared by cutting and splicing sections of several of his telephone conversations.

Whether or not the fake news broadcast was screened at Saakashvili's behest, it has neither enhanced international sympathy for Georgia's vulnerability to a new Russian aggression nor convinced the Georgian population and the world at large that opposition politicians Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Noghaideli are conspiring with Russia to overthrow the Georgian leadership.

On the contrary, numerous international organizations, including the European Union and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have condemned the broadcast as irresponsible. Similar condemnation has come from the U.S., British, French, and Czech ambassadors to Tbilisi. The broadcast incorporated archive footage of them with a fabricated voiceover in Georgian expressing condemnation of the new Russian attack.

Eduard Kokoity, de facto head of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, demanded that the broadcast be included in the agenda for the next round of talks in Geneva on security and stability in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the wake of the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, according to Caucasus Press on March 15.

Noghaideli met on March 16 with Tbilisi-based diplomats to discuss both the implications of and fallout from the controversial Imedi broadcast, and his own efforts to promote a rapprochement with Russia, Caucasus Press reported. Noghaideli's political party, For A Just Georgia, together with the opposition Conservative and People's parties, Mamulishvilebi (Sons of the Fatherland), the Party of the Future, and the movement Christian Georgia, issued a statement the same day announcing the revival of the opposition National Council established in the fall of 2007.

The statement expressed alarm at Saakashvili's "antinational and antistate policies," as epitomized by the Imedi broadcast. It said those policies risk "destroying Georgian statehood," and affirmed that the only way to prevent this is to effect regime change "by peaceful and constitutional means."

At least one leading member of the Georgian political establishment has categorically condemned the Imedi broadcast. Parliament speaker and former Foreign Minister David Bakradze said on March 15 that it is "absolutely inadmissible" to do "anything that may cause shock among the public, intimidate investors, and insult the Georgian Army," Caucasus Press reported.

It is unclear what role, if any, powerful Interior Minster Vano Merabishvili may have played in the incident. Merabishvili was in Dubai on March 13 when the program was broadcast, and according to the daily "Alia" on March 16, he subsequently expressed his disapproval.

Independent military analyst Irakli Sesiashvili told the news agency GHN that he is convinced Merabishvili, whose ministry is believed to engage in illegal phone-tapping, was behind the posting to the Internet of the telephone conversation between Arveladze and Tsamalashvili. Sesiashvili suggested that Merabishvili did so with the express intention of discrediting Saakashvili.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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