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Saakashvili's Erratic Response To Invasion Hoax Raises Suspicions

Demonstrators rally outside Imedi television station in Tbilisi on March 14, the day after the hoax broadcast.

March 15, 2010
By Brian Whitmore
Facing mounting criticism over a hoax television broadcast claiming a Russian invasion, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has climbed down from his initial defense of the report.

Saakashvili was first defiant, saying on March 14 that the broadcast reflects a true threat emanating from Moscow. But a day later he called it "harmful to our society."

The report, aired on the staunchly pro-government Imedi channel on March 13, said Russian tanks had crossed into Georgia and were headed for Tbilisi. It also said Saakashvili had been killed and that some opposition leaders -- including former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze and former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli -- had betrayed their country and sided with Moscow.

The report caused widespread panic in Georgia, still jittery less than two years after Russian forces staged a real invasion of their country in August 2008. Cell-phone signals were overloaded as nervous residents attempted to reach family, and emergency services reported a rise in heart attacks.

WATCH: A YouTube post of the introduction to the Imedi report, in which the moderator urges viewers: "Let's watch this edition of 'Chronika' about a worst-case scenario for the future, and then we'll return to you with a discussion." (Translation by RFE/RL's Georgian Service)

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Sensing the public anger, most Georgian government officials have sharply criticized the Imedi program.

Speaking to local residents in Georgia's Bolnisi region on March 14, Saakashvili was mild in his assessment. He said the program "should have been done differently." But he also appeared to defend it, saying its content, regardless of whether it was real or not, reflected Russia's true intentions.

"But the main unpleasant thing in yesterday's report -- and I want everyone to realize it -- was that it was very close to the real situation, close to what can really happen, or to what our enemies have in their minds and heads," Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili also condemned Burjanadze and Noghaideli -- both of whom had visited Moscow recently and have called for better relations with Russia -- for associating with people who "have the blood of Georgians on their hands."

But on March 15, Saakashvili backtracked. In a written statement posted on the president's website, he said despite Moscow's "aggressive plans against Georgia, the condition of our state institutions, the level of consolidation within our society, and the attitude of the international [community], all make the plans of these occupying forces impossible to realize."

In his statement, Saakashvili also called for higher journalistic standards to prevent such incidents in the future.

Political Cauldron

The report and Saakashvili's erratic response to it have raised questions about how much the president, or members of his inner circle, knew about it in advance.

Those suspicions picked up steam when an audio recording of a telephone conversation allegedly between Imedi's director Giorgi Arveladze and Eka Tsamalashvili, a producer at the station and a former correspondent for RFE/RL's Georgian Service, began circulating on the Internet.

President Mikheil Saakashvili meets with residents outside the capital on March 14.
In the recording, whose authenticity could not be independently verified, Arveladze suggests Saakashvili himself ordered the broadcast and wanted it to look as much as possible like a real news program.

Georgian media quoted Arveladze as saying that the audio recording was fabricated by the Russian security services.

Privately run Imedi is widely believed to have close ties to Saakashvili's government. Formerly an opposition television station, Imedi was raided by police during antigovernment protests in November 2007 and later sold off to private investors under murky circumstances. Its ownership structure remains opaque, but the station is run by Arveladze, a close Saakashvili ally who once served as his chief of staff.

The report comes amid a tense political atmosphere in the volatile South Caucasus nation. In May, the country will hold local elections that are widely seen as a dress rehearsal for the 2013 presidential vote that will determine a successor to Saakashvili, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Opposition figures have accused the ruling elite of trying to create an atmosphere of fear so that Saakashvili can more easily engineer an electoral triumph for a handpicked successor.

"There is no question that this is another incident that raises the political temperature in Georgia," says Lawrence Sheets, director of the International Crisis Group's Tbilisi office. "The opposition is accusing the government of being behind this fake broadcast that scared the daylights out of a lot of people. The government is saying it has nothing to do with it and that it should have been done in a different way, but then claims that the actual content [of the program] could actually happen in a worst-case scenario."

Giorgi Arveladze
The report was immediately condemned in all quarters of Georgia's fractious opposition, as well as by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Shock At Home And Abroad

The United States, European Union, and Georgia's influential Orthodox Church have also joined in the chorus of criticism.

In a televised appearance, U.S. Ambassador John Bass called the report "irresponsible," adding that it does nothing "to help Georgia address real problems and threats to security it faces."

Peter Semneby, the EU's special envoy to the South Caucasus, said the hoax did little to help stability in the region. Speaking to Reuters, he said the fake program "seems to have created further internal political division. It may even have been intended to do so."

Georgian Patriarch Ilia II called the broadcast an "abomination" and "an insult" to the Georgian people.

Patriarch Ilia is widely revered in Georgia and has criticized Saakashvili in the past. Sheets says the harshness of criticism, delivered in his March 14 sermon at Tbilisi's Holy Trinity Cathedral, could resonate widely.

"I would call your attention to the very serious tone that was used by Georgia's patriarch in condemning this broadcast," says Sheets.

Imedi head Arveladze apologized for causing a "shock" with the broadcast, adding that the station's management discussed running a warning caption on the screen throughout the program. He said they opted to simply air a warning at the beginning and end of the report. (The Georgian news announcer opening the program describes it simply as a "special, simulated" edition of Imedi's information program "Chronika.")

But like Saakashvili, Arveladze also defended the broadcast, saying that its goal was "to lay out the plan prepared in Moscow, with all of its painful details." He then appeared to blame viewers for not correctly understanding Imedi's goals, saying "it was a miscalculation to think society would have perceived the broadcast adequately."

Despite Saakashvili's initial defiance, the broadcast appears to have also opened up divisions within Georgia's ruling clique. Unlike the president, parliamentary speaker David Bakradze -- a close Saakashvili ally -- was unequivocal in condemning Imedi.

"It is impermissible to produce [programs] with such a form and content that scare and shock people," said Bakradze. "It is impermissible to produce [programs] with such form and content that would scare off investors, who are needed to secure jobs for our citizens."

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report
Comment Sorting
Comment on this forum (18)
Comments page of 2
by: Mamuka
March 16, 2010 01:27
I'm glad somebody changed Bolnisky to Bolnisi.

That's about the only positive point in this whole sad story.

by: sophie from: Tbilisi
March 16, 2010 10:31
This is one more appalling and insulting fraud orchestrated by the government; this has nothing to do with journalism professional or state democracy standards.
In Response

by: Anony from: Canada
March 16, 2010 16:08
Sophie, why would you believe the opposition's version of events (who have traveled to Russia and met with Putin)? Don't you think it's odd that this happened in Georgia while these things:,
are happening in Russia?
In Response

by: sophie
March 17, 2010 08:27
Dear Anony,
I don't believe to those opposition figures who fly to Kremlin (actually those folks had been top officials of Saakashvili's government for many years until last year) and believe me very few (if any) like those voyages. But here the issue is different - This was deliberate disinformation on fake attack and insinuation with vague possibilities by the news-program of the TV-station (which is openly pro-governmental btw). Form and content of the production is NOT acceptable in any democratic country, especially if you already have half of the country occupied by Russia and several hundred thousands of IDPs, who went through 2 wars. This case has been violation of not only human morale or journalistic standards, but of constitutional norms.

by: Anonymous
March 16, 2010 16:16
"For Russia, it might appear, Saturday’s broadcast might appear to be a win-win situation. The content of what many in both Moscow and Georgia are already calling Tbilisi’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast simultaneously reduces the credibility of Georgian criticism of Russia’s actual behavior and leaves Saakashvili in a weakened position at home and abroad.
Russia has frequently sought to weaken those around it by backing through false flag operations that push its opponents to make radically anti-Russian statements -- the Cheka’s “Trust” operation of the1920s is a model – knowing full well that once those statements are shown to be false, those who make them will be the first to suffer."

by: Ed
March 16, 2010 16:41
It could all just be an error, like this:

"From BBC News:
French railway SNCF in train 'explosion' blunder
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
By Emma Jane Kirby

The French railway operator, SNCF, has mistakenly put a dramatic statement on its website saying more than 100 people had died in a train explosion.

The false announcement, of an explosion in Macon in the Burgundy region, was part of a training exercise.

It was only when journalists began flooding the railway operator's phone lines that the company realised there had been an enormous error.

A real SNCF statement later firmly said that the accident had never happened.

The message, which appeared on the SNCF website shortly after 1100 (1000 GMT), stated that following an explosion on a high-speed TGV train on the Paris to Dijon line, 102 people had been confirmed dead, while 380 people had been injured.

During an in-house training exercise in which staff were asked to respond to a massive rail accident, a staff member had accidentally posted details of the pretend scenario on the official website.

In a statement about the misunderstanding, SNCF explained that it was obliged to practise its emergency procedures for the safety of its passengers. "
In Response

by: anonymous from: anywhere
March 22, 2010 11:03
It could be an error, Ed, if the Imedia representatives themselves did not state it was important to show what would happen in case of a real invasion...

by: ZviadKavteli from: Ann Arbor, MI, USA
March 17, 2010 11:27
Oppositioners like Burjanadze and Noghaideli will do anything to gain power. Not only will they meet with Putin, but will recognize "independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia". They are people without morals.

The scenario described in Imedi does not surprise me, it only demonstrates the possible scenario. Georgians should develop adequate responses to the situation, rather than punish Imedi messengers.

by: Charlie Brown from: Atlanta, GA-USA
March 17, 2010 13:21
From my vantage point here in Georgia, USA it is time for a new President in GEORGIA. I believe he and the people at the TV station need to be replaced.

by: Ole Hansen from: Hamar
March 18, 2010 01:45
Interestingly enough, one day before Imedi TV showed its fake report, the Russian Internet publication published an interview with the Russian military expert Zaur Alborov. In the interview, which was promptly reprinted by “official website” of the occupational regime in Tskhinvali,, Alborov called for “a preventive [Russian] military operation to demilitarize Georgia by force.” The objectives of the operation, in his view, must be “arrest or liquidation of the leadership…of Georgia’s military and security forces…irreparable damage to the forces of the adversary…elimination or capture of the armament of Georgia’s armed forces and destruction of Georgia’s military infrastructure.” And this is just one characteristic example of belligerent views expressed by Russian experts and politicians.

Apparently, Imedi TV’s bogus newscast is based on the knowledge of all of this, reflecting the sentiments voiced in Russia. On the one hand, admittedly, the Georgian television’s show was awkwardly presented and the sequence in the scenario it subscribed to could just be a vague imagination. On the other hand though, there was a real Russian invasion two years ago and given its failure to produce regime change in Georgia and thwart the country’s pro-Western orientation, any new invasion to “finish the job” is highly probable if permissible international and domestic conditions are created by Moscow. The bogus newscast could also be seen as a warning by the TV channel whose producers might have some additional and highly
confidential knowledge with which ordinary citizens of Georgia are not familiar.

by: Andrew from: Tbilisi
March 18, 2010 06:14
The fact that the program did not have a constant warning note displayed was quite stupid.

However the scenario it showed is highly likely, and it would be wise for Georgians to be prepared for this sort of action from some members of the opposition (not all of course, there are many opposition supporters who are true patriots too), after all it is not the first time this sort of thing would have been done by the Russians.

Politicians such as Burjanadze and Noghaideli are a severe danger to the continued independance of the nation of Georgia.

They have alienated many of their supporters by cozying up to Putin and the neo-imperialist Russian state, and will almost surely lose the Tbilisi municipal elections later this year, I am concerned that they will then try and cause a violent incident during street protests and request Russian "humanitarian" assistance.

The result would be disastrous for Georgia to say the least.

by: DisturbedbyGeorgianHate from: Georgia
March 18, 2010 15:18
It is disturbing to see a so-called democratic nation and an ally of the US sink to such low levels to get a rise out of their people and essentially cement deep psychological fears and hatred in their own population. It is also disturbing to see how low Sakashvitti has sunken in order to attack his Russian "enemy", an enemy that was an ally not very long ago. This is just a game. Sakaashvilli will most likely leave Georgia after his "term" ends and go live in Europe off the riches he has stolen from his people. What a disgusting state of events. Georgia needs to shape up so much in regards to so many things: their horrendous human rights record, their pathetic government, their ignorant claims of ownership of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both of whom rightfully are the ancient homelands of Ossetians and Abkhazians, respectively), their failing economy which results in thousands of Georgians fleeing the country every year for RUSSIA (wink wink) and other countries, their image in the world, their dubious ties with countries with dubious track records, and so on. This only proves to me that Georgia is not a competent country that can effectively function in the international arena among other nations. Before they try again to attack their neighbors in the Caucasus for example, and before they claim that their neighbors are run by Russians and they themselves are a true beacon for "democracy" in their Caucasus, let them clean up their messes first. Utter hypocracy.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
March 19, 2010 07:02
Well, more drivel from someone who is uninformed.

Georgia has a far better human rights record than Russia, both in regards to the majority and minority populations. Look at Russian actions in the North Caucasus, the Russian support for ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the Russian support for Armenian separatists in Azerbaijan.

Abkhazia has been the homeland of both ethnic Georgians and ethnic Apsu for several thousand years, as evidenced by foreign eye witnesses from the Greeks onwards.
Strabo's description of Dioscuras/Sukhumi as a Svanetian city in the classical period springs to mind, as does the fact that all architectural monuments in the province many dating back to the 2nd century AD, were built by Georgians and covered in Georgian inscriptions.

The simple fact of the matter is that in 1991 58% of the populaton were Georgians, and 17% Apsu, and Russia colluded in the ethnic cleansing of the largest single part of the population. Tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians were murdered, many raped and mutilated by Russian "volunteers", and you wonder why they have an intense dislike of Russia? Please try and get it into your tiny little brain, that Georgia was invaded and occupied by Russia in 1921, they were NOT a Russian ally, they were an imperial possession.

With regards to South Ossetia, the Ossetians first arrived there in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, and were a minority until the forced immigration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and did not become a majority of the population of Tshkinvali until the 1960's.

In addition, Apsu is the second official language of Georgia, and with regards to Ossetians (more Ossetians live in Tbilisi than in South Ossetia), they have the right to attend Ossetian language schools in Tbilisi and Gori, compare this with the racist behaviour of the separatist administrations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The area of Tbilisi in which I live has a large Ossetian population, and I have never witnessed any hate or discrimination either way, in fact most of my Ossetian neighbors had sons who fought in the Georgian army in 2008.

So "DisturbedbyGeorgianHate", get an education bucko.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Tbilisi
March 19, 2010 11:19
Sorry, that should read "in 1991 48% of the populaton were Georgians, and 17% Apsu"

Also note that separatist ethnic cleansing also affected Azeri's, Pontic Greeks, and ethnic Russians who did not support separatism.
In Response

by: DisturbedbyGeorgianHate from: Georgia
March 20, 2010 00:39
So, besides Andrew from Auckland (or was it Tblisi?) and Shelley were the only ones else to comment?

Andrew: I understand that perhaps your living among Georgians has decidedly influenced your way of thinking, so due to that I won't blame you too much for your post.

Regarding the human rights comment: whatever you say. :) Naturally, they'd have less incidents, but they are smaller as well. I'm not trying to paint them as bad as Russia, but it is a fact that hatred exists there and is shown frequently.

Next, I never denied that Georgians and Abkhazians LIVED TOGETHER. EVERYONE in the Caucasus has lived among each other, and if you truly were living in Tblisi, or had travelled in the Caucasus, you'd know that. That said, fact remains that Abkhazia was an INDEPENDENT kingdom in the past, and just because Georgians lived there, does not make this less of a fact.

It is also a fact that Georgian/Stalinist rule was bad to those not having Mingrelian, Svan, etc. blood. Face the facts. These people were treated terribly and their actions are certainly understandable given the fact that they were in danger of assimilating into the Georgian culture. Georginization was a fact.

About your amusing remark regarding the population of Abkhazia: think about that for a second. Just why do you think the population was in favor of Georgians? Could it be perhaps that after they helped their fellow Russian allies expel hundreds of thousands of North Caucasians (even allowing them to use their territory to launch attacks from, an irony considering what happened in 2008), Georgians flooded their lands en masse in an effort to populate it with their own as much as possible? Maybe? You think?


Ethnic Cleansing: Georgians are guilty of this too, and this fact is undisputable. Pot calling the kettle black. I am bored from this point. Move on.

Your ignorance is clearly displayed by your lack of knowledge of Russian-Georgian relations PRIOR to 1921. The fact that you would even cite that year when I am clearly referring to the period when Russia was in the Caucasus trying to bring it to its knees is hardly surprising. Are you a foreigner working in Tblisi and have taken a shine to a Gruzin chick, perhaps? Like their wine, their food? Your bias is incredulous, and quite frankly, I am sad that as an outsider (or maybe you are Georgian with just great English, who knows) you can think this way, or perhaps, be brainwashed to this extent.

By the way, my brain is a good size, thanks. And I am quite well educated, thank you. I am not sure about you, but quite frankly, I do not care and I do not also care to stoop to your level and use personal insults to get my point across.

By the way, I love your comment about Ossetia. Where did you read THAT? :))

Oh, another thing: it is rather stupid to make such a remark as you did in your last few comments. NO ONE NATION thinks the exact same way, NO ONE NATION does things the same way. The same way there are Georgians who are deluded by their falsified books, there are also Georgians on the other side of the coin who realize that these groups cannot live together and accept reality for what it is. And by the way, don't you worry your pretty little head about Russia. It is going downhill and eventually we will be free from it, and I mean all of us. By then, let's hope Georgia doesn't do anything stupid and continue to allow CIA puppets and drones to take control over it and also, let's hope that they won't invade their neighbors hell bent on murdering them too.

Have a good day. And don't bother replying, your reply bored me thoroughly.

The fact that you comment on some points and left others alone proves you are merely parroting what you read. Ciao and don't forget to sample Gruzin wine, it's one of the best in the region.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Tbilisi
March 22, 2010 05:31
Now "DisturbedbyGeorgianHate"

The history of Ossetian immigration to Georgia from the 12th century on is quite well documented, even Ossetian scholars such as Vassily Abayev point this out, when he stated that Ossetian separatism was a severe historical mistake, and should quite rightly not be accepted by the Georgians.

The Ossetian kingdom of Alania existed between the Don and Volga rivers, they were crushed by the Mongols in the 12th century and fled south. In terms of the ancient cultures of the north and south Caucasus, they are recent arrivals.

Yes, Abkhazia was at times an independant kingdom, but so was Svanetia, Imereti, Kakheti and so on. I fail to see your point.

At the time the Kingdom of Abkhazia-Egrisi (to use its correct name) was independant, its state language was Georgian, it was ruled by a Georgian, and it's nobles were Georgians with some Apsu, its population was mixed Georgian and Apsu, with some north Caucasians, and its capital was Kutaisi in Imereti.

Try again.

Your ignorance and twisting of facts is quite amusing.

Please cite Georgian ethnic cleansing?

Ossetians whom I know quite well in Georgia tend to love this country greatly, especially when they look on the Russification of their ethnic kin in north and south Ossetia.

My knowledge of the Russian Georgian relationship is actually pretty good, especially the Russian attempt to eradicate Georgian culture and their language in the 19th century, and again in the late Soviet period, through the policy of Russification.

For example, after the Russians annexed Imereti in 1810, it only took 2 years for the people of west Georgia to become so sick of the Russians that they held a major uprising and asked for aid from the Turks of all people.

By the way, I am not Georgian, but I know that calling them "Gruzin" is considered and insult. I suggest if you live in Georgia you might want to stop doing it.

As for things being good for Georgians under Stalin, no not really, Georgia was much more heavily purged than most other Soviet republics during the Stalin era.

As for Georgianisation, in Abkhazia yes, it did happen to an extent, but it was followed by Russification which continues to this day. Russia was and is an expert at the traditional Imperial tactic of "divide and conquer", did you notice recently that Bagapsh is passing a law allowing Russian settlers to buy land in Abkhazia, something the Apsu are not allowed to do....

As for bias, well no, I studied Caucasian history at university, particularly focusing on the classical and medieval period, and unfortunately for your stupid comments, the documentary and archaeological evidence about Abkhazia and "South Ossetia" is quite clear, as are the eye witness accounts of those who traveled through the Caucasus as late as the 19th century.

What is your ethnicity by the way?

by: shelley winters
March 18, 2010 22:43
Do they offer tinfoil hats at a discount where you guys live?

Comments page of 2

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