The controversial August war remarks of MP Salome Zurabishvili, one of the candidates in the upcoming presidential polls, drew condemnation from Georgian opposition parties.
Zurabishvili, who will reportedly enjoy the campaign endorsement of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, earned the criticism of ruling party politicians as well, prompting reports that the French-born career diplomat might no longer be the GDDG’s pick for the October polls.
Speaking at her presidential campaign announcement on August 6, Zurabishvili said the war with Russia started a century ago, but “the  part of the war” was launched by Georgia, which was “provoked and took the bait.” “A small country like Georgia cannot afford to be provoked: when you are a small country, you have to be smarter than your enemies.”
Zurabishvili repeated the words at Mukhatgverdi military cemetery in the outskirts of Tbilisi, where she visited on August 8 to pay tribute to Georgian soldiers fallen in the war.
“If you would like me to give you an assessment of what happened in 2008, let’s put the question this way – how can we describe the fact that the military operation was started when Georgia had absolutely no advantages, when it was warned by all of its partners not to pursue military steps, when it was warned that there would be no assistance [from partners],” Zurabishvili told reporters.
“When you do not expect [your partners’] help, when you have no advantages, when the element of surprise is not in your favor, when you know that [large-scale] Kavkaz drills close to your border are on the way from July, when hundreds of armored vehicles and thousands of Russian soldiers are deployed [close to your border], how can we describe the fact that [the government] allowed itself to be provoked and launched massive assault on its population?! – [is it] foolishness?! [is it] whims of a crazy president (implying Mikheil Saakashvili) or some bizarre and unclear agreement with our centuries-old enemy,” she added.
Several opposition parties slammed Zurabishvili’s remarks, with MP Salome Samadashvili of the United National Movement saying if such statements become part of an official presidential policy, it would mean the country’s “ultimate refusal of the prospect of restoring its territorial integrity.” “If Salome Zurabishvili is elected a President, the Georgian people, by its own hands, will fulfil the Russian order of securing the international recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
MP Giga Bokeria, one of the leaders of the European Georgia party, echoed these concerns, saying Salome Zurabishvili’s “brazen” remarks “has given additional significance to the upcoming polls and has turned it into a referendum against useful idiots and their line [of thinking].”
Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party criticized the remarks as well. “States cannot start wars on their territory; wars can only be started against another country. Our army has not fought in Russia and our bombs have not reached their territory, and I think a lady with French upbringing has to be well aware of this and should not be acting out of hatred and on orders of concrete intelligence services,” he said.
Kakha Kukava of the Free Georgia party slammed the statement as well, saying accusations against Georgia “in public and from someone who intends to become a president, has a political significance and she has to be aware of this.” “If Salome Zurabishvili is elected, which I doubt, this will be a diagnosis that the Georgian people refuses to have a normal state.”
Davit Usupashvili of the Development Movement stressed it was the Kremlin that carried out an aggressive war against Georgia and not the other way around. “Therefore, saying it might have been Georgia’s fault in some way, is a mistake and unacceptable; we need to approach our internal political battles with more responsibility.”
Ruling party reactions
Ruling party politicians reacted to Zurabishvili’s statements with cautious criticism.
MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, who chairs the Georgian Dream’s parliamentary faction, said he did not know what exactly was said by Zurabishvili, “but any statement that Georgia was the aggressor and that Georgia started the war is absolutely unacceptable.” “Yes, we might be saying that the Georgian authorities were perhaps provoked in some respects, but a full-scale war was launched by the occupying force.”
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani was less discrete in her assessments. “Our position is the same and has not unchanged; this is the position that the Georgian state, the people, the government and the Justice Ministry are defending before the ECHR and the ICJ and the position is the following – the war was started by Russia against Georgia … This is the position that I share and that our government and the ruling team are firm on,” she said.
Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze commented on the matter on August 9, saying the ruling party has not made its final decision on her candidacy and hence could not give a political assessment of her words.
Bakhtadze, however, said he would still articulate his personal position on the matter. “Of course, Russia is an aggressor, it occupied our country’s territories and this is what’s important. What’s more, the Kremlin did not start it in 2008, but has been carrying out factual annexation of our territories beginning from 1990s,” the Prime Minister said.
Bakhtadze then stressed that although the Georgian government was warned by its European and American partners that Moscow was planning military operations, “unfortunately, the government, instead of preventing [escalation] through engagement of our partners and the international community, failed to avoid the threat and Georgia ended up in a devastating situation.”