One of the problems with writing an article about a controversial figure is that they want to control the transcript. They will not provide an interview unless they can control what will ultimately be printed.
Mamuka Mamulashvili, a Georgian fighting in Ukraine, clearly thinks he is both controversial and important enough to do this, and that alone makes him more interesting than he himself wants to be. When Veterans Today sent him a draft of this article and asked him to review it, telling him that it would be good if we could have a conversation about it, he declined to respond. Maybe he is spurning an opportunity to protect himself. The evidence suggests, however, that he might actually be striking an indirect blow at those protecting him.
The friends of the friend of freedom
Georgia officially supports the Poroshenko government in Kiev. So it is not unusual for a Georgian to be fighting there in defence of it. Mamulashvili also has previous military experience which would make him acceptable to the chocolate army:
However he is also a man with traceable connections. By examining the trail of how he got to Ukraine, who writes stories about him and where they are published and where they are not, it is possible to build a picture of who his friends are.
Firstly, we need to look at his finances. As an irregular, Mamulashvili is not being paid by the regular Ukrainian army, but nor is there any evidence he has been hired as a mercenary, a [paid combatant receiving a salary. As a volunteer soldier, he has to meet his own expenses, or get someone else to do that for him.
In Georgia Mamulashvili was not independently wealthy, he had to work for a living. Before going to Ukraine he worked for the Ministry of Defence as a paid advisor to Irakli Alasania, the new government’s first Defence Minister. Alasania then fired him and 30 other veterans during a “reorganisation process” connected with either cleansing the department of those involved in criminal procurements or bringing in new people whose pockets the minister wanted to line through another set of criminal procurements, depending on your point of view.
Mamulashvili has said publicly that he was not removed due to any reorganisation but because he was politically active. It is true that Alasania was not one to tolerate those he saw as threats, especially from within his own rank and file. If we accept Mamulashvili’s own story, we was removed for having connections with former president Mikheil Saakashvili and political and career objectives of his own which were somehow linked with Saakashvili.
It therefore appears that Mamulashvili is being paid by Saakashvili, or the tooth fairy, and being supported by his media team. This in turn means that he is apparently on the payroll of the Americans, as Saakashvili and the other wanted Georgians now doing government jobs in Ukraine make no secret of being.
Secondly, who is writing stories about him and where do they appear? Though it is sometimes difficult to ascertain exactly who owns which media outlet in many parts of Eastern Europe, the orientation of those owners is generally known and understood within the media world and beyond. Indeed, it is a common complaint amongst TV viewers, in particular, that all they ever hear about is what the station owners think about a particular issue, which they knew beforehand, rather than the facts of the issue being discussed.
Mamulashvili’s media connections clearly link him to the US Embassy and a team of foreign nationals based in Georgia who provide media support for the regime in Kiev under the guise of running language clubs and working for various NGOs. Many of these individuals worked in Kiev prior to being relocated to Georgia, and still move back and forth on a regular basis. It is easy to track them via their own social media postings and those who know them personally.
Here is a sample of one such posting. “Russia’s anti-Euromaidan propaganda machine is operating at full throttle and influencing the views of Russians and Ukrainians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine who follow Russian news sources.” It is such individuals who brought Mamulashvili to Ukraine and are paying him to be the poster boy of a larger operation to recruit Georgians to fight for Poroshenko.
So far, so obvious. But where does the Georgian government fit into all this? It is deliberately taking an ambiguous position on this conflict – very much opposed to the Poroshenko government harbouring Saakashvili and several members of his overthrown government, but still supportive of that government in principle. It is more difficult to see what it thinks about Mamulashvili and what he is doing. But like the Saakashvili government, it employs sophisticated PR teams. Like its predecessor, it has reasons for making what it wants us to see so obvious.
Where friendly fire is the only kind
At least five Georgian fighters have died in Ukraine. They were all serving there under the battle flag of the Georgian Legion. Although the Georgian government seems dismayed at the Georgian Legion’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict, an action which makes it appear to be Saakashvili’s personal force, it has also done precious little to stop it.
The five casualties we know of are:
1. Alexander Grigolashvili, 32, killed with other volunteers in the Ukrainian village of Shastie, on December 18, 2014.
2. George Janelidze, AKA Satana (the Devil), killed near the Ukrainian village of Shirokino, on April 18, 2015.
3. Dato Khipiani, 33, a member of Saakashvili’s United National Movement, who was killed on February 26, 2014 during the demonstrations in Maidan Square. His body was found on Kreshiatnik Street in the centre of Kiev, when it was claimed that he died from a sniper’s bullet.
4. Zua Khurtsidze 54, also one of the 100 killed on Maidan during the demonstrations, most likely by fellow Georgians.
5. Tamaz Sukhiashvili, 36, who had served in the Georgian Armed forces until 2012. Killed on January 18, 2015, during the fighting near Donetsk Airport.
After Grigolashvili’s death the Georgian Ministry of Defence said that members of the former Saakashvili government were recruiting Georgians to fight in Ukraine, often under false pretenses, and that Saakashvili is therefore totally responsibility for their injuries and deaths. It called his actions a provocation.
Despite this, back in January this year, Levan Izoria, then Georgia’s Deputy Chair of Internal Affairs, said that “to fight abroad is punishable, but this should not be of concern to those Georgians who are fighting in Ukraine.” He was referring to the fact that according to Articles 310 and 410 of the Georgian Criminal Code, any Georgian who fights in another country must be punished and sentenced to from 8 to 15 years imprisonment. Georgians fighting in Ukraine can’t be punished if they are citizens of Ukraine, but if they become citizens of Ukraine they should not only face such punishment will lose their Georgian citizenship.
Izoria lost his job as a result of making this unguarded comment. But there are now many more Georgians being deployed in hotspots in East Ukraine, who are easy to identify from hacked radio communications. The Georgian government is apparently unable to bring them back, despite supposedly being on the same side as the government whose forces they are fighting in, or stop them going in the first place.
Sheep in wolf’s clothing
Mamuka Mamulashvili may not represent the Government of Georgia but in some sense he must be doing its bidding rather than purely that of Saakashvili and his gang. Blaming Saakashvili, and this known supporter of his, for the presence of Georgians in the fighting is very convenient. The present government is doing precisely nothing to stop Georgians getting there, and has the same strategic partners Saakashvili had, the very people who are funding Mamulashvili and writing his “out of the horse’s mouth” propaganda for him.
Mamulashvili said in April this year at a conference he held in Georgia that Georgian volunteers had been coming to Ukraine without informing him. “I have to find money and send them back here to Georgia; we don’t have enough funds for everybody. When we need help we will inform people,” he told the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Why did he feel the need to tell the Ministry this? Could it be that the Ministry which is condemning Saakashvili for his involvement in yet more murder and slaughter is actually contributing to the process itself?
Georgia has become engulfed in a conflict which damages its own national security, and puts its borders at risk, by either supporting or turning a blind eye to what is going on in Ukraine under the guise of democracy building and territorial integrity. This war could ultimately bring NATO into armed conflict with the Donbass region and even the Russian Federation. Does the Georgian government want to gain something from that? Or is it simply powerless to prevent itself becoming yet another bunch of fall guys, hoping that it is protected by not sharing the previous government’s blatant criminality?
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.