On September 20, the Russian state television’s Odnako program went to great lengths accusing Georgia of collusion with Chechen rebels and “international terrorism.” The “experts,” interviewed on the program to make that case, included Igor Giorgadze, the presumed organizer of the 1995 assassination attempt, in which President Eduard Shevardnadze was injured and several others were killed. Giorgadze, who was revealed as a Russian agent in his former capacity as state security chief of Georgia, was spirited off to Moscow by Russian military plane after the abortive coup in Tbilisi. The Georgian authorities have sought his extradition for trial on terrorism charges ever since.
Although Giorgadze moved openly about Moscow and gave media interviews from time to time, the Russian authorities claimed all along not to know where he was. Last year in Tbilisi, Vladimir Rushailo–as internal affairs minister at the time–suggested that Giorgadze may have moved to Syria. Whatever the case then, Giorgadze is in Moscow now as persona grata.
The Odnako program’s host, Mikhail Leontiev, is known to have close ties to the Kremlin. His program is used from time to time for disinformation attacks on Western-oriented political leaders in recently independent countries. Earlier this year, a full-length broadcast slandered then Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and his American-born wife Kateryna Yushchenko. Observers in both Moscow and Kyiv–and, now, in Tbilisi–are in no doubt that such attacks bear an official imprimatur.
The September 20 television program triggered another spate of media stories, sourced to Russian military and intelligence sources, claiming that Georgia harbors Chechen terrorists. The political message, implicitly or explicitly, is that Russia would be justified to mount an “antiterrorist operation” on Georgia’s territory. Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had already handed Georgia a note, phrased like a quasi-ultimatum, on September 18 (see the Monitor, September 21).
After that, the latest accusations are rehashing a scenario that in August gave rise to a war scare. It has again, hundreds of Chechen fighters under Ruslan Gelaev joining with Georgian armed groups to prepare an invasion of Abkhazia from the Kodori Gorge. In August, it took a week before the allegations were proven false. They had been inherently implausible because the Abkhaz and the Chechens–including Gelaev and his men–had fought together against Georgia in the 1992-93 war, which left deep scars on Georgian-Chechen relations. Abkhazia itself does not buy the story. Its leaders are nervous at the prospect, not of an invasion, but of being used and dragged into a conflict. Now, as in August, the Russian military and intelligence contradict themselves and each other by claiming, alternately, that Gelaev’s force is based in the Pankisi gorge and in the Kodori Gorge.
On September 23 in Tbilisi, Shevardnadze urged Georgian media to refrain from polemics with Russian media, and the Georgian government to respond in a restrained manner. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has protested against the allegations as destabilizing and dangerous. Shevardnadze has publicly remarked with concern that the Russian government has recently strengthened its influence over the media, and that these stories are all the more worrisome (Russian television, Interfax, Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Georgian television and radio, September 20-24).
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