The Cable

Georgian government warns of Russian build up as election nears

As Georgians head to the polls Monday, analysts are warning that rising tensions could boil over just as the Russian military is conducting exercises near the de facto border line, a situation the Georgia government is worried Moscow could exploit.

"We hope it will be made clear to Russia that a military invasion into Georgia with the goal of destroying Georgia's sovereignty, which is still the goal of the Kremlin, will have a huge at minimum political price for Russia in its relationship with Western powers," Georgia's National Security Advisor Giga Bokeria told The Cable in a phone interview from Tbilisi.

The European Union's monitoring mission, which patrols the administrative boundary between Georgia and the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhasia and South Ossetia, noted in its most recent report that while the observers saw no movement of military equipment on the Georgian side that could be perceived as instigating an attack, the Russian forces on the other side of the boundary line are increasing.

"The Mission has raised its concerns about this activity with the relevant Russian command structures," their report stated.

The Russian buildup comes against the backdrop of increasingly violent protests that are spreading ahead of the Oct. 1 parliamentary elections, in which the ruling United National Movement party is facing its greatest challenge to date from the Georgian Dream Movement, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia but is now spending it to huge effect in the Georgian political arena.

Ivanishvili's party and the ruling party led by President Mikheil Saakashvili have been engaged in a bitter fight over the future of Georgia. The government accuses Ivanishvili's camp of inciting violence, while the opposition charges Saakashvili's police forces of abusing their power.

A scandal over videos showing torture in a Georgian prison, played on a television station owned by Ivanishvili, was quickly followed by the release of footage of an Ivanishvil relative attempting to bribe officials. Ivanishivili has disavowed his relationship with that relative.

Suspicions that the Georgian opposition is using the potential unrest after the election to influence foreign and Western governments rose when Ivanishvili penned an Aug. 2 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal's European edition that warned of regional and international fallout from the Georgian elections.

"Without hope for freedom and liberty, our society will eventually explode with internal strife. The pot is already boiling," Ivanishvili wrote. "The Caucasus could experience sectarian conflicts similar to the one in Syria. And with both Russia and Iran on our doorstep, this is not a risk any of us should wish to take."

Bokeria said that the Georgian government is now concerned that the opposition plans to make good on its warnings by declaring the polls illegitimate next week, setting off more violence.

"The ridiculous suggestions about Syria were alarming at the time because they were completely groundless and irresponsible and without any evidence to suggest that, but in the current context they are even more alarming because in recent days we see an upsurge of violent incidents, mostly connected with opposition activists," he said.

On Sept. 22, Columbia Professor Lincoln Mitchell, an Ivanishvili supporter and advocate, wrote an article entitled, "Could Georgia be 2012's October Surprise?," which Ivanishvili tweeted to his followers, in which Mitchell wrote that if the Obama administration doesn't come out on the side of the opposition and decry the Georgian elections as illegitimate, the entire country of Georgia could erupt in anti-American violence.

"If the administration does not intervene at that time, the demonstrations will likely continue, but could take a tone critical of western, and American, inaction in response to the administration's tacit endorsement of Saakashvili's election fraud. This would not be good for Obama and will remind voters of his administration's reluctance to take an early and strong position in support of peaceful demonstrators in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa in early 2011," Mitchell wrote. "Continued protests in Georgia could even destabilize the country, creating immediate security problems for the U.S. in a region where the possibility of conflict between and within states is already very real."

In an interview with The Cable, also from Tbilisi, Ivanishvili accused the UNM party of using the organs of state power to institute a policy of intimidation and persecution of opposition leaders and activists. But Ivanishvili said that despite the governments' tactics, "We have a lot of support from the public and we will definitely win the upcoming elections."

If the opposition doesn't prevail, it is prepared to declare the elections were not free and fair, he said.

"We have enough evidence right now to say that the elections are already fraudulent and already being stolen. We don't have to wait for the first of October because the amount of material is already so large that we can prove and say that this is already election-rigging and this is already a stolen election," Ivanishvili said. "There's no point in waiting until the first of October. But we're continuing to fight the political fight, no matter what."

The opposition is not calling for civil unrest, either before or after the elections, Ivanishvili insisted.

"I'm doing everything in my capacity not to allow Syria in Georgia. If you see each and every one of my actions, you will not see any call for aggressive actions nor calls for civil unrest," he said. "We're trying our best to show the people how to have peaceful elections no matter how the situation unfolds. No matter how much the elections are rigged, no matter how much they steal them, neither I nor the coalition is going to call for any type of civil unrest, or cause any type of civil unrest."

There could be some conflict with Russia following the election, but that would be Saakashvili's fault, according to Ivanishivili.

"Saakashvili brought in Russian troops in Georgia through his actions, through his silliness. He already allowed Russian troops to occupy Georgia and now he's saying that I'm going to bring in Russian troops... Do I exclude him playing out some scenario with Russia? No, but I hope that's not going to be the case."


The Cable

Murdered ex-SEAL’s mother frustrated by pace of Benghazi investigation

The mother of Tyrone Woods, one of the two former Navy SEALs killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate, is speaking out about the slow pace of the investigation into the death of her son and three other Americans.

"Don't want to ever politicize the loss of my son in Libya, but it has been 16 days and the FBI has yet to get to Benghazi to begin their investigation," Woods's mother Cheryl Croft Bennett wrote on her Facebook page Thursday. "Apparently they have made it to Tripoli but haven't been allowed to enter Benghazi. Meanwhile, the diplomatic outpost where Tyrone and [former SEAL] Glen [Doherty] died, was not and is not secured. Absolutely unacceptable."

Bennett was apparently referring to reports by CNN and other outlets noting that the FBI team sent to investigate the Benghazi assault has yet to arrive in the city, and the consulate remains unguarded.

Bennett has been using her Facebook page to disseminate information about the Benghazi attack and talk about her son Tyrone, who was killed in the second wave of the firefight at an "annex" that some reports have called a "safe house" about half a mile from the main consulate building. 

The mission personnel fled to the annex when the main consulate building was set on fire, but the attackers either followed them there or already knew the location. They attacked the annex early in the morning as a security team tried to evacuate the personnel.

State Department official Sean Smith died in the fire during the initial attack, according to officials briefing reporters the next day, and Amb. Chris Stevens was lost in the fire and was later returned to U.S. personnel dead. Woods and Doherty were killed in the firefight at the annex, according to official reports.

In an earlier Facebook post on Sept. 22, Bennett wrote that the Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed to her that Woods died on Sept. 12, not Sept. 11, which matches the official account because the annex fight occurred after midnight. Bennett was originally told that Woods had died on Sept. 11 and she was not notified of her son's death until Sept. 13, she wrote.

"As you can probably understand, it is important to me and to Ty's family to know when he left us," Bennett wrote.

In a Sept. 17 Facebook post, Bennett wrote extensively about the Sept. 14 "transfer of remains" ceremony she attended when the bodies of Woods and the three other American victims were handed over to their families in a hanger at Andrews Air Force Base.

"The entire afternoon was overpowering and unreal. Little did I know that I would find myself in a reception room being comforted, hugged, and, yes, even kissed by the President of the United States. Along with the President, there was Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and General and Mrs. Colin Powell. They were all wonderful. They held my hand, offered condolences, gave warm hugs, and were extremely compassionate and genuinely sad for my loss, as I fought back tears and tried to project an image of strength to honor my SEAL son," Bennett wrote.

"Each of them commended Tyrone for his courage, his bravery, and his ultimate sacrifice for his country. While squeezing Secretary Clinton's hand and choking back tears, I told her that what worried me was that my son died possibly thinking that he had failed in the mission he was to carry out, that of protecting Ambassador Stevens and the people in the compound"

"Looking me firmly in the eye, she told me that my son did not fail. She called him a hero and that if not for him, the 30 people inside the consulate would not have made it out. He was doing his job, fighting for his life, putting others ahead of his own safety, but then that was his job, which he did well."

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