November 26, 2008 / 3:27 PM / 11 years ago

Ex-envoy:Georgia thought U.S. backed Ossetia assault

TBILISI (Reuters) - A former Georgian ambassador said Wednesday that Georgia had wrongly convinced itself it had U.S. blessing for an assault on breakaway South Ossetia.

Erosi Kitsmarishvili, former envoy to Russia, told a parliamentary commission Tuesday that Georgia had been the aggressor and triggered a war with Russia in August that proved to be disastrous for Georgia.

President Mikheil Saakashvili dismissed the comments as “simply untrue.”

Since his testimony, Kitsmarishvili has been vilified by senior Georgian officials, underscoring the difficulty of expressing dissent in the ex-Soviet republic since the war.

Washington, Georgia’s chief Western backer, has denied Russian accusations that it encouraged the Georgian assault to reassert control over its breakaway territory. It criticized the operation after the war.

Kitsmarishvili, who had been recalled from Moscow weeks before the war, said Georgian leaders had mistakenly convinced themselves that the assault had the support of U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Some people who attended the meeting between Condoleezza Rice and Saakashvili (in July 2008) were saying that Condoleezza Rice gave the green light for military action,” he told a news conference.

He said U.S. officials he had spoken to, as well as other Georgian officials, had “categorically denied this information.”

Kitsmarishvili walked out on the parliamentary hearing on Tuesday after a member of the commission from Saakashvili’s ruling party threw a pen at him and charged toward him.

He told the commission Georgia had been the aggressor and had been preparing an assault on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali well in advance.

Georgia’s official line is that it was responding to a Russian invasion of South Ossetia — whose breakaway leadership had been backed by Moscow for 15 years.

Russia says it sent tanks and troops to halt fierce shelling of the South Ossetian capital by Georgian forces.

Saakashvili’s office issued a statement Wednesday saying Kitsmarishvili’s comments to the commission were disappointing, but that the fact they had been televised “underlines Georgia’s commitment to build a robust and transparent democracy.”

Saakashvili is due to testify to the commission Friday.

Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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