On 4 July 2017, in the village of Bershueti in the Gori District situated along the Tskhinvali Region’s occupation line, Russian occupants installed so-called border signposts. As a result, the land plots belonging to several local dwellers ended up partially beyond the occupation line. The distance between the new and old signposts is approximately 700 metres with a distance of only 400 metres left before reaching Georgia’s central highway. Creeping occupation is still in progress with Russia again blatantly violating Georgia’s sovereignty as well as international law and the obligations taken under the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008.
Non-governmental organisations issued a statement in regard to this fact. They called upon the Government of Georgia to promptly hold a session of either the National Security Council or the State Security and Crisis Management Council where immediate threats and challenges for Georgia would be discussed.
After the NGO petition, the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, stated that it is not a prerogative of the National Security Council to discuss occupation. Mr Kobakhidze asserted: “According to the Constitution of Georgia, the National Security Council discusses the issues of defence organisation and military development. In regard to creeping occupation, it belongs to neither the first nor the second category. Therefore, it is not a prerogative of the National Security Council to hold a session about this issue.”
FactCheck verified the accuracy of the statement.
According to Article 99 of the Constitution of Georgia, the National Security Council is set up to organise the country’s military development and defence. Point 2 of Article 99 decrees that the Organic Law on the National Security Council determines the composition, powers and work procedure of the National Security Council. Therefore, the meaning and significance of the “military development” and “defence organisation” are outlined in the aforementioned law. This document gives us the possibility to have a precise definition of the National Security Council’s responsibilities and powers.
The Organic Law on the National Security Council reads: “The National Security Council considers the issues directly related to the military development and organisation of the defence of the country. Additionally, this includes issues related to the cases of war, massive disorder, violation of the territorial integrity of the country, military coup, armed insurrection, ecological disaster or epidemic or in any other cases in which state authorities are deprived of the ability to execute their powers stipulated in the Constitution (Article 2, points D, E).
Of additional note is the composition of the National Security Council. According to the law, the President of Georgia presides over the meetings of the National Security Council. Statutory members of the National Security Council are: the Prime Minister of Georgia, Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Minister of Defence of Georgia, Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia, Chairman of the Defence and Security Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, Head of the State Security Service of Georgia, Assistant to the President of Georgia on National Security Issues – Secretary of the National Security Council and the Chief of the General Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces. The National Security Council brings together all of these high-ranking officials who are in charge of state security, defence and safety. Therefore, their joint coordinate strategy has to solve the problems immediately facing Georgia.
The Government of Georgia’s arguments about not holding the National Security Council session are based on the premise that the occupation is already a fait accompli and that it has to be considered within a general context with no need to react to separate incidents but, rather, having a coordinated and consistent policy to achieve the complete de-occupation of Georgian territory. The Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees, Sozar Subari, stated: “Occupation started in the 1990s and occupation came to an end in 2008. We tend to forget this and somehow assume that the installation of each new signpost is a new occupation.”
It is possible to find a certain logic in this argument, considering the fact that Georgia does not recognise the so-called border (and, consequently, neither its new coordinates) imposed by the occupation forces. For Georgia, all of the territories which have been taken by Russian forces since the 1990s until the present day are occupied. However, on the other hand, there are straightforward and practical realities and it is vitally important to react to them:
- As a result of creeping occupation, the area under the effective control of the occupants grows larger and, therefore, the territory where the Government of Georgia exerts control is getting smaller. In other words, there is a constant violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity.
- Any incident of creeping occupation represents a danger to the citizens of Georgia. Their property, be it yards or agricultural land plots, remain beyond the occupation line and Georgians lose their sources of income. They cannot oppose this process to use their own property.
- Incidents like the murder of Giga Otkhozoria by the occupants as well as the abduction of Georgian citizens in the villages close to the administrative border, among others, are taking place close to the occupation line.
Additionally, there is a pressing question – if the occupants take over the country’s central highway (the signpost signalling the occupation line is installed 400 metres from the highway) and split Georgia into two halves, then how reasonable is the “we would not respond to the provocation” approach?
In order to prove that the consideration of the issue of creeping occupation and holding a session about this topic is not the National Security Council’s prerogative, Irakli Kobakhidze names Article 99 of the Constitution of Georgia and says that the National Security Council is set up to organise the military development and defence of the country. However, in his statement, Mr Kobakhidze neglects the Organic Law on the National Security Council which is recognised by Point 2 of Article 99 of the Constitution of Georgia as a guarantor of the National Security Council’s activities.
The aforementioned law gives legitimacy to the National Security Council and tasks it to consider and tackle the issues which pose danger to the country’s territorial integrity. By referring to the Constitution and avoiding the organic law, Irakli Kobakhidze, on the one hand, misleads the public in regard to the National Security Council’s functions and, on the other hand, discredits the country’s security coordinating organs.
FactCheck concludes that Irakli Kobakhidze’s statement is a LIE.