Month: October 2008

Georgia "shock"

The secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, Alexander Lomaia, testified that Russia had used about a third of its combat-capable land forces in the operation against Georgia, and “neither we nor any foreign intelligence service had any information about Russia’s expected full-scale invasion and occupation of a large part of our territory; it was a shock and a surprise.” According to Lomaia, it was known that several thousand Russian troops were on the border of South Ossetia during the Kavkaz-2008 military exercises and had apparently begun moving in on August 7; but the Georgian leaders believed they had enough troops to deal with such a force (Civil Georgia, October 28). Apparently, the Georgians did not notice a statement by General Yuri Netkachev that the number of troops involved in Kavkaz-2008 exercises (8,000) “was officially underestimated” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 18).

The yacht case – 4

European commission officials who worked for Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, issued a misleading statement about the history of his relationship with Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire, the Guardian has established.

Mandelson’s officials in Brussels, where he served as trade commissioner before returning to a role in the government earlier this month, said the two men met “at a few social gatherings in 2006 and 2007”, but had never discussed aluminium, the main source of Deripaska’s wealth.

However, Mandelson and Deripaska were seen together at a Moscow restaurant in October 2004, after he had been appointed trade commissioner, but before he formally took up the post. A journalist spoke to both men and their companion, German Gref, who was then the Russian economics minister, and the event is also described in the blog of Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Mandelson’s former adviser and close friend.

The statement by the European officials is understood to be based on information provided by Mandelson himself. It is unclear why the business secretary has not corrected it to reflect the earlier meetings. The disclosure that the two men had met earlier is likely to fuel Conservative demands for an investigation into the relationship between Mandelson and the Russian oligarch.

The yacht case – 3

It is against the law to accept political donations from foreigners but the Electoral Commission, which polices party funding laws, may refuse to get involved because no donation was made. The Labour MP Tony Wright, who chairs the Public Administration Select Committee, also said he saw no need for an investigation – unless it was an internal Tory one – because no laws had been broken.

But the Labour backbencher Denis MacShane, who suggested that Mr Osborne may have broken the law by acting to facilitate what would have been an unlawful donation, made the first move to force an inquiry.

This afternoon, Mr MacShane wrote to Mr Osborne saying that there were likely to be questions for the Electoral Commission to investigate and asking him a series of questions about the events in Corfu and his own role in them.

The yacht case – 2

From the Independent:

At the height of sanctions against Yugoslavia, SIS, the secret intelligence service, warned No 10 about a similar donation to the Conservative Party from a Serbian source. The concern of SIS at the time was that this could be used to compromise the party.

Now, the Conservative Party is already highly compromised by its unfortunate Russian connections. In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is supposed to promote human rights, Tory MPs have, until very recently, been closely allied with the United Russia Party of Vladimir Putin.

Disinformation blues

At RFE/RL, Liz Fuller writes about the flagging Russian disinformation campaign currently directed against Georgia, but losing momentum and conviction day by day:

A Stratfor analysis…expressed skepticism, pointing out, first, that tactics such as suicide bombings are typical of the North Caucasus Islamic resistance, but not of a Christian culture such as Georgia’s; and second, that the terror attacks the Georgians have perpetrated to date have been amateurish and inflicted only limited damage.

The analysis suggested the “Izvestia” story was pure disinformation intended both to discredit Georgia and to serve as a warning to the country’s leaders not to risk any military or covert actions that could trigger a new Russian counterattack.

There is some circumstantial evidence out there suggesting that Georgian special forces may have acquired additional expert training in the use of explosives. Photographs from a computer reportedly seized in August 2008 when Russian troops expelled Georgian forces from the upper reaches of Abkhazia’s Kodori Gorge and posted on a Russian website apparently show U.S. military instructors or contractors demonstrating to Georgian troops how to construct explosive devices. But it’s not clear where or when the photographs were taken.

Assuming, however, that the photographs are genuine, it seems strange that Moscow has opted not to publicize them more widely in the context of its warnings of a purported nebulous Georgian terrorist threat — unless the Russian leadership considers it pointless and counterproductive to raise the issue with a lame-duck administration in Washington, especially at a time when bilateral relations are still strained in the wake of the war in Georgia.