- By Josh Rogin
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.
The new prime minister of Georgia said recently that he is investigating whether the previous government had a connection to Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but that notion is "ridiculous," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told The Cable.
Saakashvili sat down for an exclusive interview Thursday at the end of his four-day trip to the United States, which included meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and former President George W. Bush. Ever since the October 2012 parliamentary elections that brought the Georgian Dream party and its billionaire leader Bidzina Ivanishvili to power, Saakashvili has faced the threat of prosecution along with several of his former government ministers for alleged corruption — prosecutions he says are politically motivated.
But since the April 15 attack in Boston that was traced back to two ethnic Chechens, Saakashvili has been battling a new charge — that his government supported Chechen terrorists and may even have hosted the elder Tsarnaev during the bomber’s 2012 trip to the region.
"Maybe the suspect in Boston terrorist attack had some kind of contact with terrorists trained in Georgia," Ivanishvili, the prime minister, said in an interview with Georgian TV station Rustavi 2. He added that his government was "investigating the possibility."
Ivanishvili’s comments seemed to give credence to a recent report in the Russian newspaper Izvestia that claimed Tsarnaev visited Georgia in 2012 for seminars organized by the Jamestown Foundation and the "Fund for Caucasus," a Georgian group. But Saakashvili dismissed the accusations and said such reckless talk harms Georgia’s image and standing abroad.
"It’s ridiculous, but it’s even more ridiculous that the prime minister might say that," Saakashvili said. "Of course, they have a domestic agenda. The problem is that they don’t distinguish their domestic agenda from the harm they are doing to the country."
Tsarnaev didn’t ever enter Georgia, as far as he knows, Saakashvili said. But Ivanishvili and his team may be speculating about it in order to undermine Saakashvili’s reputation both inside Georgia and abroad.
"They are trying to sow doubts about the previous government in this nasty way without thinking about the other consequences. They are so desperate to undermine us that they are willing to try anything," he said. "They might think that we are so influential in Washington that they have to do things like that to undermine this influence. But the point here is that it is damaging the country, not just individual politicians. And plus it’s just not true."
More broadly, Ivanishvili is claiming that the previous Georgian government had a pattern of supporting Chechen terrorists and never revealed its true actions related to an August 12 incident near the Lapota Gorge. In that incident, 11 Chechen extremists found operating inside Georgia took hostages during a clash with Georgian security personnel and were eventually killed, along with three Georgian troops.
Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili, who was appointed by Ivanishvili, filed his own report on the Lopota Gorge incident claiming that Saakashvili’s government trained and equipped the Chechens before killing them to hide their own involvement. Ivanishivili has said that report warrants further investigation.
"We know that Georgia was used for years as a transit point for fighters," Ivanishvili told the New York Times. "We will stop this by all means. This will not happen now."
Ivanishvili also is pushing for new inquiries into the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, which he has often said was caused in part by Saakashvili. Saakashvili told The Cable that Ivanishvili is reinforcing Russian government rhetoric on both the war and the accusations of Georgian support for Chechen terrorists.
"I don’t think the prime minister consciously does it, I think most of the time he just follows what the most extremist ones on the Russian side say," Saakashvili said. "It for sure coincides with what the Russian extremist side and Putin himself will say."
Even members of his own party have publicly stated that Ivanishivili’s comments on Georgian support for Chechen terrorism and his speculation about Tsarnaev and the Lopota Gorge incident has been counterproductive.
"In general I think that on such issues, which are sensitive from both international and domestic point of view, we all should better at first wait for the investigation materials and for incontrovertible evidence and to then express suppositions; that will be much better," Parliamentary Chairman Davit Usupashvili, a member of Ivanishivili’s Georgian Dream party, said.
The new Georgian government has publicly stated on many occasions that it wants to continue its integration with Europe and the West, continue to pursue membership in NATO, and continue to improve its relationship with the United States.
"Our people realize that European and Euro-Atlantic integration is the only way to enable our country to build a European democracy," Ivanishvili said at a recent NATO seminar held in Georgia.
But for Saakashvili, the repeated accusations of Georgia’s involvement with terrorists undermine the trust and relationships needed to make that integration a reality.
"All our allies know what have done on terrorism, but they are concerned and preoccupied because these were the countries that were supporting us. And if Georgia’s government now says the truth was exactly the opposite, that sounds weird to say the least, but it’s also hostile to our allies that did their best to bail us out from these situations."
As for whether he fears personal prosecution, Saakashvili said he isn’t worried about it much.
"I don’t think my personal issues are a big deal because I am still the most difficult target to go after, but the point is there is this continued effort to behead the whole political opposition and that is 100 times worse," he said.
He also called on the United States and the West to become more involved in the crisis in Syria, where he said the radicalization of the opposition was getting worse, partially due to a reluctance of Western countries to engage.
"The more the situation radicalizes the more difficult it will be to control in the future. And we clearly have seen if there is not more U.S. and Western involvement things might get more out of control in the future no matter what the scenario will be," Saakashvili said. "At this stage, the biggest losers might be the Syrian government and the West together, paradoxically. So I think the West needs to do something."