Georgia opposition leader slams Russian invasion hoax in interview
Nino Burdzhanadze told the Monitor she believes that Saakashvili ordered the Russian invasion hoax to sow anti-Russia panic and tar Georgia's opposition, which has been calling for his resignation for more than a year.
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Amid a storm of public protests, the head of Imedi, Giorgi Aveladze – who is a close friend of President Saakashvili – apologized for the confusion but rejected demands that he resign. He said the purpose of the broadcast was to stimulate public discussion about the very real threat Russia still poses to Georgia.Skip to next paragraph
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In televised remarks Sunday, Mr. Saakashvili also appeared to dismiss concerns over the phony report.
"It was indeed a very unpleasant program, but the most unpleasant thing is that it is extremely close to what can happen and to what Georgia's enemy has conceived," Saakashvili said.
Georgian opposition leader outraged
"Everyone in Georgia knows that the boss of Imedi fulfills instructions given him by the president," opposition leader Ms. Burdzhanadze told the Monitor. "This story illustrates the true nature of our leaders, who don't care about consequences at all. That [fake report] threw the population into a state of fear and shock, but the aim of it was to intimidate the opposition and blacken its name."
She suggests the broadcast may have been prepared as a riposte to her successful visit to Moscow last week, in which she met with Prime Minister Putin and agreed on the need to repair Georgian-Russian relations, which have been roiled by tension since the end of their brief war nearly two years ago.
"When I decided to go to Moscow to establish contact, Saakashvili declared me an enemy of the people," she says. "For him, any improvement in relations with Russia is negative. He wants to claim that he's not responsible for the bad relationship, that it's just impossible to talk with Russia on principle. With my trip, I tried to demonstrate that it may not be easy, but it is possible to talk with Moscow."
Russia sees hand of the Georgian state involved
Russian officials say they are sure the fake broadcast was a "prepared action" designed to undermine Georgian-Russian dialogue, and not just the idea of a few journalists.
"We noticed that the Georgian Army and special services were calm and silent, a sure sign that it was an agreed action," says Konstantin Zatullin, head of the State Duma's committee for Commonwealth of Independent States affairs.
He said that Russia is furious over the fakery. "The use of President Medvedev's image, with false words put into his mouth, is unheard of. Is this what passes for normal on Georgia's pro-presidential TV?"
Georgian experts say they fear the country's political crisis will only sharpen as it heads into a controversial election for Tbilisi mayor in May, and the opposition contemplates another round of street protests aimed at unseating Saakashvili.
Last month Ukraine's pro-Western leader, Viktor Yushchenko, was defeated in presidential elections and replaced by the Moscow-leaning Viktor Yanukovich – a geopolitical shift whose implications have hit hard in Georgia and help to explain why people would feel so traumatized by a realistic false report of war.
"Ukraine's change has affected people here very deeply," says Lortkipanidze of the Center for Conflict and Negotiation. "Having a close friend and ideological partner in your own neighborhood was a big support, and now that Yushchenko is gone, there is a feeling in Georgia that we are completely alone."