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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06MOSCOW7340 2006-07-11 14:47:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
Cable title:  

RUSSIA CLOSES BORDER WITH GEORGIA

Tags:   PREL MOPS MARR PBTS ETRD GG RS 
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OO RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #7340/01 1921447
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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 

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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.

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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