ROAR: Tbilisi fighting “agents of Moscow”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
While Tbilisi convicts a political scientist for “passing secret information to Russia,” more opposition leaders in Georgia are ready for dialogue with Moscow.

A Georgian city court decision to sentence political scientist

Vakhtang Maysaya

for alleged transferring classified information to Russia is considered political by many observers and media.

Maysaya, a former employee of Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of spying for Russia during the August 2008 events in the Northern Caucasus.

The head of the political science department at Tbilisi State University was detained on May 5, 2009, when servicemen rebelled against authorities at a military base in Mukhrovani and protest rallies were staged in Tbilisi, Kommersant daily online edition said.

The political scientist was accused of working for a foreign intelligence, to which he allegedly transferred classified information about military, political and economic situation in Georgia, reshuffles in the government and purchasing weapons and military equipment.

The Georgian authorities also accused Maysaya of sending information about dislocation, number and movements of Georgian troops in August 2008.

After the arrest of the former diplomat, the Georgian Interior Ministry released a taped interrogation where Maysaya had confessed that he was guilty. However, later he kept maintaining an innocence plea.

The confession was made under pressure, human rights activists stressed. The political scientist himself later said that officers of Georgian secret services demanded “testimony compromising some high-ranking officials,” Lenta.ru online newspaper said. Among them was head of external intelligence Gela Bezhuashvili and several foreign diplomats, the paper added.

Natiya Korkotatze, Maysaya’s defense attorney, is planning to appeal the ruling. Lawyer Katy Bekauri also insists Maysaya is not guilty, Gazeta daily said. The whole affair “has been concocted by the authorities,” she told the paper, adding that she does not know their motivation.

Maysaya has been sentenced illegally, she believes, because there was no evidence in the case, “no real evidence nor indirect one proving that Vakhtang Maysaya was a Russian spy.” She believes that if the authorities had really obtained the evidence, they would have published it.

The political scientist was not the only man “convicted on charges concocted for political reasons,” Bekauri added.

If Maysaya had been accused of spying for the US or another Western country, even in that case it would be difficult to believe it, a known Georgian political scientist Ramaz Sakvarelidze told Gazeta. “I’ve known Vakhtang Maysaya for many years, he has always been a pro-Western politician,” he said. “And the accusations against him for spying for Russia are simply absurd.”

Colonel Irakly Batkuashvili also was accused of espionage and arrested in May last year on the same charges. However, he agreed to a deal and was sentenced to three years of probation and a fine of $3,000, Vzglyad.ru online newspaper said.

Batkuashvili headed the department of integration and standardization with NATO in the Georgian joint staff at the time he was detained, the paper said. During the investigation, Batkuashvili, unlike Maysaya, was released on bail of about $3,000 because he agreed to cooperate with the investigation, the paper said, citing Korkotatze.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has said that Maysaya had started working for Russian secret services some years ago. Maysaya “passed information to the enemy every two hours” about positions of Georgian troops, the media quoted Saakashvili as saying.

Saakashvili also expressed his surprise at “the morals” of Maysaya who had worked for some years as Georgian military attaché in NATO and “cooperated with the enemy for money,” the media say.

However, many analysts wondered why the political scientist was arrested just during a lecture at the university only after a year since the events over South Ossetia broke out. He was one of the regime’s opponents that were detained during the mutiny of a battalion in Mukhrovani.

Observers also noted the fact that during the August 2008 events, Maysaya was in Tbilisi and was unable to pass information about movements of Georgian troops in South Ossetia.

Some analysts consider the conviction of Maysaya as another attack against political opponents of the Georgian authorities. Meanwhile, more opposition leaders may follow the example of former Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, who wants the improvement of relations with Moscow, Lenta.ru said. Leaders of the Conservative Party “have expressed their desire to visit Moscow,” it added.

“Contacts with Zurab Nogaideli and his followers allow Moscow to demonstrate its readiness for dialogue without making concessions on key issues such as status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” the paper said.

Moscow does not want to speak with the Georgian leadership, but stresses that Russia wants to improve relations with the neighboring country and contact its representatives, Lenta.ru said.

Some opposition leaders in Georgia believe that the dialogue with Russia at this stage is senseless, the paper said. For example, Salome Zurabishvili said that the talks with Russia should be started after the opposition comes to power in Georgia, it added.

The Georgian opposition that “wants to speak with Russia instead of Saakashvili” could play an important role, the paper said, if it formulates its concrete positions. Instead of this, the opponents of the Georgian president are speaking about “a long way of talks and restoring trust with Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” it added.

The question is what position Saakashvili’s opponents will take on the decisive issues such as the fate of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it said. Nogaideli has described Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “occupied territories,” but stressed that Tbilisi should start negotiations with Moscow “without conditions.”

The Georgian leadership describes Nogaideli as an “unpopular politician.” At the same time, he also was called “Moscow’s agent” for frequent contacts with Russian representatives, Vremya Novostey daily said. However he believes this is a campaign against the Georgian population rather than against his movement.

Political parties in Russia and Georgia are planning a conference in Moscow, Nogaideli told the daily. “One should know the problems and how to solve them,” he added.

“We have no illusions that after the change of Mikhail Saakashvili regime it will be easy to solve everything with Moscow,” he told the daily. “But without the normalization of relations with Russia Georgia loses chances for integrity and development,” he said.

Sergey Borisov, RT