Russia’s war in Georgia and disinformation aired by Alt-Info

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On 28 July 2022, an expert of international relations, Mikheil Zghenti, said on Alt-Info’s program “Alternative Vision” that the United States had dragged Georgia into the wars twice, first in 1992 and then in 2008, and was now trying to drag Georgia into the war again. 

Mikheil Zghenti: “We were involved in wars by Americans twice – in 1997 and in 2008… Saakashvili was chewing his necktie and arguing with the US President because the latter promised him to stop the Russian elite that was involved in that war, the elite which was reared by Americans themselves, but the US administration did not deliver on the promise given to Saakashvili… Now there is a third attempt which is still continuing… This situation cannot stop… The Georgian population have already realized that 32 or 33-year-long bluff which they lived in and no matter what it is now called [Alt-Info, the party], the name may change, the situation may change, but I am sure that this will not happen, this situation cannot be stopped by anyone.”

Mikheil Zghenti’s assertion does not reflect the reality. The war broke out in Abkhazia in 1992 with the encouragement and military assistance from Russia, while the war in Georgia in 2008 began with the intervention of Russia. The assertion that the United States of America dragged Georgia twice into the wars is disinformation aimed at shifting the focus from the responsibility of Russia for military aggression onto other countries by levelling accusations at them. In reality, the USA and other strategic partners were engaged in the ceasefire process and as a result of aid provided by them, Georgia succeeded in strengthening its defense capability and overcoming a post-war financial crisis.

  • Encouragement and support of separatism by Russia

Russia encouraged separatism in Abkhazia as early as in the 1980s. It was at that time that under the Kremlin’s influence, a public movement “Aidgilara” was created. That movement prepared the so-called Likhni Address according to which Abkhazia was to break away from Georgia. That was followed by a number of separatist decisions, including the creation of the Guard of Abkhazia, that ran counter to the constitution. In light of the created situation, it became important to inspect and defend security of communication infrastructure in the territory of Abkhazia.

Signatories of Likhni Address

As separatist sentiments intensified, on 14 August 1992, the separatist units opened fire at Georgia’s internal military forces deployed to Abkhazia to defend the security of communication infrastructure in Abkhazia (the key purpose was to diffuse tensions there), which triggered the war. In the period preceding the war, Russia heavily supplied Abkhaz separatists with weapons. Weapons were also supplied during the conflict, enabling Abkhaz separatists to gain considerable advantage. Once the war began, Russian citizens and North Caucasian units joined the Abkhaz separatists, thereby significantly strengthening anti-Georgian armed forces. For example, by 14 August 1992, the Abkhaz army counted around 1000 soldiers while their heavy equipment amounted to three units alone, but these numbers increased with the help provided by Russia. In the period of shortage in weaponry, the separatists were aided by Russia with:

  • 1000 light machine guns, 600 machine guns, 500 hand grenades
  • Ammunitions
  • Six Infantry fighting vehicles, T-72 tank
  • Artillery weapons and mortars
  • Support of Russian aviation to the separatists
  • Human force of Russian citizens and North Caucasian units
Russian Su-25 flying over Sokhumi. National Library of the Parliament of Georgia.

It must be emphasized that Russia supplied separatists with those specific type of weaponry that were used to shoot down passenger planes, which resulted in  killing civilians. 

The passenger planes destroyed by the separatists:

  • Transair Georgia’s Tupolev Tu -134А (1 person was killed)
  • Tupolev Tu -154B (108 people were killed, including the medical personnel and a journalist of The Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Tuttle)
  • Plane Tu-134 (27 people were killed)
  • Orbi Georgian Airways’ Tupolev Tu-154B-2 (no casualties)

The Sakartvelos Respublika newspaper, 22 September 1993: “Yesterday, when approaching Sokhumi, a passenger plane Tu-134 (under Captain Tabuyev), performing the flight from Sochi to Sokhumi (the registration number 65893, the flight number 6942) was shot down by Abkhaz armed units. The plane departed from the Adler airport at 16:00 and just 15 minutes later, when it approached the Sokhumi airport, was downed by a surface-to-air missile. The missile had been fired from the sea, about five-kilometers away from the airport, from Abkhaz’s fighter cutter. The plan crashed. According to preliminary information, the plane carried 21 passengers and six crew members. According to information available as of now, all of them were killed. Foreign journalists were among the passengers of the plane.”

According to a Human Rights Watch report, published on 1 March 1995, Russia was also guilty of supplying weaponry to those specific groups who would most probably or necessarily use them for brutal methods against civilians. Human Rights Watch also emphasized Russia’s role in the assault on Sokhumi.

Human Rights Watch: “With the assistance of Russian military equipment and logistics, Abkhaz forces launched three major assaults on Sukhumi on January 5th, in mid-March and on July 1st but failed to take the city.”

The Human Rights Watch report also provides information about other forms of Russia’s involvement, including:

  • Russian planes bombed civilian targets in Georgian-controlled territory; 
  • Russian-trained and Russian-paid fighters defended Abkhaz territory in Tkvarcheli;
  • Russian planes and ships were used to attack Georgian-controlled territory.

The assertion that the United States dragged Georgia into the 1992 war is absolutely unfounded.

  • Russia’s intervention into Georgia in 2008

The August 2008 war, much like in case of Abkhazia, broke out with the support from Russia and ended in the intervention of Russian military forces. The tension in Georgia-Russia relations increased in March and April, when Russia started talks about the recognition of independence of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region whereas Georgia remained loyal to its aspiration to join NATO.

The situation gradually deteriorated in July and reached culmination in August. In mid-July, Russia conducted military exercises in the Tskhinvali region. Minor clashes began on 1 August. On 1 August, a vehicle carrying Georgian police officers was hit by two remote control explosive devices; exchanges of fire took place at night too, leaving six civilians and one police officer injured. 

Exchanges of fire occur on 3 August, but it must be noted that on that day elements of the Separate Reconnaissance Battalion of the 19th Motor Rifle Division of the 58th Russian Army were deployed to Java District. Intensive exchange of fire continued following days, wounding two Georgian peacekeepers, and on 6 August, wounding three of them.

On 7 August, Georgian peacekeeping forces came under heavy assault from the Tskhinvali region,which was followed by, first, capture of Tskhinvali by Georgian forces on 8 August and then retreat from it.

In this war too, Russia and separatist groups were main actors in triggering the conflict, though in contrast to the Abkhazia war, Western countries (including the USA) stepped out onto the arena, trying to stop the conflict, to cease fire and to assist Georgia.

The United States assisted Georgia to defend itself from the very first days of the war

In his statement on 13 August, President George Bush declared about beginning a humanitarian mission to Georgia.

President George Bush: “I’ve also directed Secretary of Defense Bob Gates to begin a humanitarian mission to the people of Georgia, headed by the United States military. This mission will be vigorous and ongoing. A U.S. C-17 aircraft with humanitarian supplies is on its way. And in the days ahead we will use U.S. aircraft, as well as naval forces, to deliver humanitarian and medical supplies. We expect Russia to honor its commitment to let in all forms of humanitarian assistance. We expect Russia to ensure that all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads, and airspace, remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for civilian transit.”

Also, it was precisely the USA that helped Georgia bring back Georgian military personnel from Iraq on 9 August. The total of eight flights were performed, bringing over 800 military to Georgia which strengthened the Georgian army in its fight against Russia. Along with the military personnel, 11 tons of cargo was delivered too. Furthermore, it was precisely owing to a direct involvement of the West that a ceasefire accord was signed, which was drafted by the French President Nicola Sarkozy. Russia violated the ceasefire accord by bombing the yard of Gori hospital and mobilizing additional forces in Gori. The violation of the accord was followed by another statement and call of President Bush on Russia to honor assumed obligations. On 15 August, the US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice arrived in Tbilisi and held a news briefing together with Mikheil Saakashvili.

US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice and President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili at a joint news briefing. Tbilisi, August 2008.

The delivery of humanitarian assistance to Tbilisi airport and Batumi and Poti seaports was of utmost importance too, as the ships and US fighter jets on board the ships prevented Russia from shelling and destroying the aforementioned strategic infrastructure facilities.

Under the humanitarian mission the following US vessels entered Georgia:

  • Arleigh Burke
  • RIM-67 Standard ER (SM-1ER/SM-2ER)
  • Ground-to-ground missile system armed with Harpoon type missiles
  • Two units of Mark 32 torpedo
  • USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) Blue Ridge
  • Hamilton class Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716).

On 24 August, the Batumi seaport was entered by a destroyer USS McFaul which, in addition to delivering a humanitarian aid, significantly enhanced security.

Along with military/humanitarian aid, a huge financial assistance was also provided. In September 2008, US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice said that the US assistance provided to Georgia amounted to at least USD 1 billion. In 2008-2009, the assistance reached USD 1.4 billion.

Senator Joe Biden, August 2008: “This money will help the people of Georgia recover from the damage that has been inflicted on their economy and send a clear message that the United States will not abandon this young democracy.”

The US assistance to Georgia was redistributed for various purposes to enable the country to continue functioning and development effectively. 

  • Governing Justly and Democratically – $48,600,000
  • Investing in People/Humanitarian Assistance – $440,433,000
  • Economic Growth – $467,890,000
  • Peace and Security – $44,577,000
  • State Department Monitoring – $2,000,000

Cover photo:

  1. Russian soldier in Tskhinvali with the Russian flag, 11 August, 2008. Photo credit: Andrey Smirnov
  2. Photo archive of the National Library of the Parliament of Georgia

The article has been written in the framework of Facebook’s fact-checking program. You can read more about the restrictions that Facebook may impose based on this article via this link. You can find information about appealing or editing our assessment via this link.

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Topic: Politics
Violation: Disinformation
Country: Russia, USA
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Alt-Info
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