Zurabishvili Doubles Down on Position that Georgia Started 2008 War

In an interview Tuesday with the TV Pirveli program Reaction, independent presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili repeated her position on the 2008 August War.

“We bombed our population. No president has the right to do that. How can we say the next day that we want [to preserve] the integrity of this country? I want the integrity of this country, and I desire that no president of this country will bomb its territory and citizens,” said Zurabishvili.

She first expressed her point of view last month, in the midst of memorials and events commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 Georgia-Russia War.

“Starting the war was the whim of a crazy president who ordered the bombing of his own population. He started the war!” Zurabishvili affirmed on a visit to the Mukhatgverdi Brothers Cemetery to pay her respects to the heroes killed in the war

Her statements prompted criticism from the public and many politicians, who claimed that Zurabishvili was parroting the Russian version of the events surrounding the war, which hold that Russia acted to protect “South Ossetia” from Georgian aggression. Then-opposing candidate Nino Burjanadze, leader of the Russian-affiliated Democratic Movement-United Georgia party, was one of the few voices who shared Zurabishvili’s position, saying “It would have been possible to avoid this war…Saakashvili thought that Russia would not dare get involved in this war and that the US would protect us, but he was mistaken.” Burjanadze bowed out of the race earlier this week after Georgian Dream officially endorsed Zurabishvili, calling it “a farce.”

While not addressing Zurabishvili’s statement directly, Justice Minister Thea Tsulikiani said, “Our government and the ruling party have one position only: that it was Russia which started this war.”

During the week of the 10th anniversary of the 2008 August War, 11 Georgian non-governmental organizations also released a joint statement expressing their concern over the positions of certain politicians affirming that Georgia started the war.

“We believe that making such statements is especially dangerous when the International Criminal Court is investigating the crimes committed during the August War. Thousands of victims have already addressed the court, which clearly indicates the brutal crimes committed by Russian and Ossetian militants and armed men. In addition, the Russian Federation does not cooperate with the court, which further complicates the investigation process,” the NGOs’ statement read.

As she launched her campaign, Zurabishvili said that Russia began instigating conflict in Georgia a century ago, and that they had provoked Georgia into making the ill-fated first move in 2008. "The fact is that Russia is an occupant of Georgia, Russia is an aggressor of Georgia, who started the war in 1801...then the Red Army entered, and due to that I was born abroad, and if I do not know that, it means I don’t know anything,” she insisted.

Zurabishvili holds that it will be impossible to have productive negotiations with Russia and the de facto authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia until Georgia admits it was Saakashvili who started the war and holds him responsible for his actions.

On Wednesday, Zurabishvili told voters that she is “coming to defend the independence of the country in order to avoid losing our territories in the future, and God knows that we lost territories in all directions during the last two centuries. This is a very rare phenomenon and we really want to keep these territories, to keep and unite these territories, restore the borders as they were before. I am also coming to send Russian troops back from these territories through peaceful means. I am coming to expel devils.”

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze was supportive, saying that although he did not hear Zurabishvili’s most recent remarks, he echoed many of her points, saying, “Russia is an aggressor. It has occupied Georgian territories. It did not start in 2008, it started much earlier, since Georgia gained independence. Of course, Russia is an aggressor, they decided to invade Georgia and launch hostilities. Russia has expelled our population from our historic lands and we have a humanitarian disaster there.” He agreed with Zurabishvili’s assessment that “the previous government could not protect the population of Georgia from this risk and did not take into account the information provided by our friends.”

While Chairman of the Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze also claimed not to have heard Zurabishvili’s Wednesday statement, he told reporters that they share a “common position” that “Russia was the aggressor, Russia started the war, everything was done in accordance with the Russian scenario, it was a script written in the Kremlin, but we should emphasize that this scenario would not have happened without mistakes and unreasonable actions by the then-President and authorities.”

On the other side, current President Giorgi Margvelashvili expressed doubts that the frontrunner’s position would be sufficient to fulfill her presidential duties, if elected. At the McCain Institute’s ‘World in 2018: Upside Down?’ international conference, held in Tbilisi on September 11-12, Margvelashvili said that although he will respect whoever succeeds him, “He/she will have to advocate Georgia and say in every country that Russia attacked Georgia. This should not be justified. Anyone who can justify it, stands on the dark side of history, the Russian side.”

By Samantha Guthrie

14 September 2018 08:54