Leaked tape exposes Georgia ex-President Saakashvili for ‘inciting bloodshed’

Georgia is demanding explanations from Ukraine after a leaked tape implicated the governor of the Odessa region Mikhail Saakashvili (also Georgia’s former president), in calling for a violent coup in his home country.

Saakashvili, who resigned his presidential office in 2013 after almost a decade in power, is wanted at home on allegations of embezzlement and abuse of power. He was appointed a governor in Ukraine after a violent armed coup ousted its president in February 2014, an event that Saakashvili supported and praised.

The website called "Ukrainian revolution" has published a tape implicating Saakashvili in orchestrating a similar uprising in Georgia. In the conversations, which have not been independently verified, a man with a voice strongly resembling Georgia’s ex-leader is heard to be advising such a course to Nika Gvaramia, the head of Rustavi 2, one of Georgia’s biggest TV stations, and opposition leader Georgy Bokeria.

Rustavi 2 is currently in the middle of an ownership conflict. Opposition parties accuse the Georgian government of being behind it because the channel gives a lot of airtime to criticism of the country’s leadership. Some Georgian officials said Rustavi 2 is not a media outlet but a propaganda vehicle for the United National Movement, Saakashvili’s former party, to which Bokeriya belongs.

In a phone call Saakashvili is heard telling his two friends they should raise the stakes by turning the conflict into a violent confrontation. He suggests that hiring 1,500 to 2,000 “militants” and turning the station into “a fortress” to defend it from an expected court-ordered eviction of the management would be required.

When Gvaramia noted such a move would hurt Rustavi 2 profits, Saakashvili responded: “To hell with the profit… It’s an ordinary revolution, war.”

“You have to go for the revolution here, call on the people for defense. You have to fortify, build barricades, right, exactly barricades. Just seal yourselves off. Stockpile water and stuff and go for a weeks-long standoff,” he said, adding it would be fine if the conflict turned violent and even involved shootouts.

After the scandalous recording was leaked online, both Gvaramia and Bokeria confirmed its authenticity, but pointed out they didn’t agree with the plan.

“The tape was recorded on October 19, but as you can see there are no barricades here. We are not a political party - we are a TV station. Our job is using cameras, not violence. But we promise we would not let anyone get our station and will continue to protect our right to free speech,” Gvaramia said on Thursday.

Bokeria said his party would only use legal methods in its opposition to the Georgian government.

The leak sparked an international scandal between Georgia and Ukraine, where Saakashvili holds a senior governmental position. Georgian President Georgy Margvelashvili said: “It was impermissible for a senior official of a foreign country to meddle in a country’s domestic policy and plan riots.”

Tbilisi issued a formal complaint through its Foreign Ministry, demanding Kiev clarify its stance on the “statements that threaten Georgia’s security and stability,” which came from the governor of one of Ukraine’s regions. The Georgian Justice Ministry also requested legal assistance from Ukraine to investigate the leak. The incident is being treated as a “conspiracy for a coup” by the Georgian authorities.

Saakashvili is no stranger to taking power trough street politics. He became president of Georgia in the first place after ousting his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze during the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003. Those events were bloodless, unlike the uprising in Ukraine in 2013-2014 that gave Saakashvili a chance for a comeback to politics.

“He was caught red-handed in a conspiracy to incite conflict and instability in Georgia presumably with the intention of returning himself or his clique into power,” geopolitical analyst Eric Draitser told RT. “It’s interesting to compare the tactics that we saw in Maidan in 2013 and early 2014 versus what Saakashvili is talking about in those recordings. In fact, they are identical.”

The scandal came as Georgia is seeking to revoke Saakashvili’s Georgian citizenship. The country’s constitution forbids dual citizenship with the exception of foreigners given Georgian citizenship by a special presidential decree. Saakashvili was given Ukrainian citizenship in order to become Odessa’s regional governor in May.

The paperwork confirming this was delivered to Georgia on October 23. The Georgian Justice Ministry has commenced the process of revoking his Georgian citizenship, it announced on Friday.

The former president himself said Tbilisi was acting on orders from Russia to block him from running for Georgian president. Saakashvili has not been in Georgia since 2013, when his term in office ended.