06MOSCOW7340, RUSSIA CLOSES BORDER WITH GEORGIA

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW7340 2006-07-11 14:47 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO5525
OO RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #7340/01 1921447
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 111447Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8783
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 007340 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/11/2016 
TAGS: PREL MOPS MARR PBTS ETRD GG RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA CLOSES BORDER WITH GEORGIA 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 1647 B. TBILISI 1646 C. 
 
     ROBERTSON-REMLER TELCON 7/11/06 
 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns.  Reason 1.4 (b, d) 
 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (C) Russia closed its one border crossing with Georgia on 
July 8.  In response, on July 9 Georgia closed its "border" 
crossing into South Ossetia.  The South Ossetians have hyped 
the Georgian move, making the false charge that Georgia has 
cut the road between South Ossetia and Russia's North 
Ossetia, and threatening an "appropriate response."  The head 
of the Russian PKF in South Ossetia has backed the South 
Ossetian charges.  The Russian MFA negotiator for South 
Ossetia told us July 11 he was unhappy with the Russian 
border closure, which he believed was provoked by statements 
from Georgian DefMin Okruashvili.  We stressed that Russia's 
action in closing the border had raised tensions and could 
result in an armed confrontation; the border should be 
reopened as soon as possible.  The closure was harming 
Armenia and could cause Armenian-Georgian tensions.  And it 
could hamper confidence building measures in Abkhazia.  Popov 
hoped to make progress at the Joint Consultative Council 
meeting in Tbilisi July 14.  End Summary. 
 
Sudden Closure 
-------------- 
 
2. (C) At 2210 hours local time on July 7, Russian border 
officials faxed their Georgian counterparts to say the 
Verkhnyy Lars border crossing would close at midnight, 1 hour 
and 50 minutes later.  Verkhnyy Lars/Kazbegi is the only 
functioning border crossing between Russia and non-separatist 
Georgia.  Russia also maintains crossings with separatist 
Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Georgia holds to be illegal. 
On July 8 the Georgian MFA transmitted a protest note to the 
Russians pointing out, inter alia, that in accordance with 
Article V Section 3 of the 8 October 1993 "Agreement of the 
Governments of the Republic of Georgia and the Russian 
Federation on Transit Through Customs Borders," a party 
desiring to limit border transit or communications in order 
to repair facilities must notify the other party no later 
than three months prior to the beginning of work, and report 
the duration of the repair work.  The Russian communication 
did not contain a date for the repair to end. 
 
3. (C) In response, Georgia on July 9 closed the crossing 
between Georgia "proper" (i.e., non-separatist Georgia) and 
separatist South Ossetia, at Ergneti.  The GOG allowed 
Georgian citizens to transit north to south, and allowed 
Georgians and others with Georgian visas to transit south to 
north.  No cargoes were allowed to transit.  The Georgian 
Embassy in Moscow informed us that the GOG was opening the 
road northwards to cargoes until July 14 to allow (mostly 
Armenian) traders, trapped by the closure of the Verkhnyy 
Lars border, to transport their agricultural produce to 
Russia through South Ossetia.  (Note:  Russia has long banned 
Georgian agricultural imports.  End Note.) 
 
4. (C) The South Ossetians reacted by sending an angry letter 
July 10 from their representative on the Joint Consultative 
Commission (JCC) Boris Chochiyev to his Georgian counterpart, 
Giorgi Khaindrava.  The letter claimed that the Georgians 
were closing not only Ergneti, but also the highway north of 
Tskhinvali at the Georgian-controlled villages of Kekhvi and 
 
SIPDIS 
Tamarasheni.  Such a move would cut off South Ossetia from 
North Ossetia.  (Note:  Per Ref C, the OSCE has certified 
that these charges are untrue.  The Georgians have not cut 
off the highway north of Tskhinvali.  End Note.)   Chochiyev 
threatened "appropriate measures" if the Georgians did not 
remove the checkpoints.   The South Ossetians published 
Chochiyev's letter, and Russian television carried the South 
Ossetian charges, including the false charges about closure 
at Kekhvi.  Russian media also carried a letter from Russian 
PKF commander Kulakhmetov to the JCC that condemned the 
worsening situation and appeared to support the false South 
Ossetian claim that the Georgians had closed the roads north 
of Tskhinvali. 
 
Russian MFA 
----------- 
 
5. (C) Against this backdrop, we approached Russian MFA South 
Ossetia Negotiator Yuriy Popov to seek the Russian side of 
the story.  Popov (STRICTLY PROTECT) did not seek to maintain 
the fiction that the border was closed for repair.  He said 
he was "just as unhappy as you are" about the closure, which 
he called "the wrong move at the wrong time."  He had 
protested the move and especially the lack of notice.  He 
would use his "little influence" in the matter to try to 
 
MOSCOW 00007340  002 OF 002 
 
 
reopen the border.  He could not, however, predict when the 
border might reopen. 
 
6. (C) Popov would not say who had ordered the closure, but 
thought it would not be hard for us to guess (i.e., the 
military).  Asked what had triggered the move
, Popov cited 
Georgian DefMin Okruashvili's recent statements during 
military exercises.  Okruashvili had called on Georgia to 
demand the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers.  "The 
pronouncement," Popov said, "was read as a direct signal that 
Georgia is ready to use military force" in South Ossetia. 
Kulakhmetov's letter to the JCC had noted those military 
exercises as evidence of Georgia's hostile intentions.  We 
pointed out the inaccuracy of Chochiyev's claim, backed by 
Kulakhmetov, that the Georgians had closed the roads north of 
Tskhinvali. 
 
SIPDIS 
 
7. (C) We also pointed to Kulakhmetov's claim that the July 9 
assassination of South Ossetian "Security Council Chair" 
Alborov was an act of terrorism designed to destabilize the 
situation.  We asked for Popov's views.  Popov said he 
thought the Georgians were not responsible.  Rather, the 
matter was "internal" to South Ossetia.  He implied that his 
conclusion was based on Russian intelligence reporting. 
(Daily "Kommersant" reported May 10, also citing unnamed 
sources, that the assassination may have been the result of a 
business dispute over the division of revenues from cigarette 
smuggling.) 
 
8. (C)  We stressed that even if one genuinely believed the 
Georgians were preparing for war, Russia's border closure was 
irrelevant and inappropriate to reducing that threat. 
Rather, it just heightened tensions.  The border should be 
reopened as soon as possible.  We said the border closure was 
worrying for three reasons: 
 
-- The situation around Ergneti is still unfolding.  Based on 
the letters from Chochiyev and Kulakhmetov, the potential for 
an armed confrontation still exists. 
 
-- The principal burden of the Verkhnyy Lars closure fell on 
Armenians.  Russia was creating tensions between Armenia and 
Georgia. 
 
-- There could be longer term ramifications for Abkhazia. 
Several confidence building measures to ease the Abkhazia 
conflict involved opening borders with the separatist entity 
-- e.g., the project to re-open a rail link between Sochi and 
Armenia via Abkhazia/Georgia.  Having closed the one 
functioning border between Russia and non-separatist Georgia, 
Russia could hardly expect Georgia to be enthusiastic about 
giving more open-border access to the separatists. 
 
9. (C) Popov reiterated that he had no answers.  He said he 
would be going to Tbilisi on July 13 for the JCC meeting 
there the following day, and "did not like the idea of going 
under these circumstances."  Nonetheless, he thought the JCC 
would take place -- no one had approached him about 
postponing or canceling it -- and it would be good to talk to 
the Georgians face to face.  He expressed appreciation for 
U.S. efforts to urge President Saakashvili to show restraint 
during his Washington visit. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
10. (C)  We are at a loss to explain why Moscow -- the 
central government -- would want to provoke such a crisis 
between Georgia and South Ossetia on the eve of the G-8 
Summit.  The action becomes more explicable if we ascribe it 
to some within the Russian military; and more explicable 
still if we localize that to the military and local 
authorities in South Ossetia.  What is clear is that Russia's 
border services made a provocative move (identical to what 
Armenia inaccurately labels a "blockade" when practiced by 
Azerbaijan and Turkey), and that the commander of Russia's 
PKO in South Ossetia backed the inaccurate Ossetian charges 
that raised tensions even higher.  We will continue to press 
the Russians to re-open the Verkhnyy Lars border. 
BURNS

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