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Audio appears to show Georgian diplomat apologising to Russian journalist over protests

15 June 2023
Protesters outside of Rooms Hotel in Tbilisi on 1 April 2021. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze.

An audio recording has appeared online appearing to show a senior Georgian diplomat apologising to prominent Russian cultural figures for the disruption of a Russian journalist’s birthday celebrations in Tbilisi in 2021.

The audio was published on Wednesday by the anonymous YouTube account Cyber Kmara (‘cyber enough’) under the title ‘Ivanishvilis government apologises to Kremlin propagandist’. 

It is purportedly of two conversations held by Zurab Abashidze, the Georgian Prime Minister’s special representative for relations with Russia, on 1 April 2021; the first with Mark Zilberkvit, the founder and president of the Tchaikovsky Foundation for culture, and the second with popular Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner. 

The previous night, anti-Russia demonstrators had disrupted Pozner’s 87th birthday celebrations, which were taking place late on 31 March 2021 in a Tbilisi restaurant. Zilberkvit was amongst the guests. At the time, an overnight curfew was in force in Georgia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which restaurants were forced to close and people were prohibited from leaving their homes.

After Pozner and his entourage were moved to Rooms Hotel by police, protesters proceeded to throw eggs at the building.

The entrance to Rooms Hotel in Tbilisi was egged by activists as Pozner and his party were inside. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The demonstrators demanded that the famous Russian TV personality and his acquaintances, reportedly numbering around 50, stop celebrating Pozner’s birthday and leave the country. 

On the morning of 1 April, Georgian police escorted Pozner and his acquaintances out of the hotel and to Tbilisi airport.

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[Read on OC Media: Protesters foil birthday celebration of famous Russian journalist in Tbilisi]

In the recording, the voice alleged to be that of Abashidze describes the protesters as ‘Nazis’ and ‘provocateurs’, and alleges that they were paid by the opposition.

‘This group of several dozen people, paid for by [former President of Georgia Mikheil] Saakashvili, are [opposition militia] who are doing this for the second, third time […]. They are just paid provocateurs’, says Abashidze. ‘This is a group of 30 to 40, maybe 50 people […]. They are paid agents of the [United] National Movement’. 

Speaking to the voice alleged to be that of Zilberkvit, Abashidze states that he blames himself for the incident, and that Georgia’s Prime Minister and various ministers have since made statements on the matter condemning the protesters’ actions. 

On 1 April 2021, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, describe the protest as ‘unacceptable and uncivilised’, and similarly claimed that it was organised by the opposition United National Movement.

Zilberkvit suggests that Abashidze calls Pozner and explain the position of the government, which the video claims Abashidze went on to do that evening.

In that call, the voice alleged to be that of Pozner tells Abashidze that he is ‘not particularly worried’. 

‘I understand that this is some kind of nonsense, these are bribed people who complete tasks, I take this very calmly, so please don’t worry’, says Pozner to Abashidze.

Abashidze tells Pozner that he sent Zilberkvit the Georgian Prime Minister’s statement, and asks him to read it, as ‘everything is said there’. 

After the release of the recording, on Wednesday, Abashidze confirmed to RFE/RL that he had had a conversation with Zilberkvit two years ago, but denied the legitimacy of the recording. 

‘[The conversation] took place two years ago. I confirm that our conversation took place, but the content of the conversation text is completely distorted. That’s “fake”,’ Abashidze said.

However, Abashidze denied having a conversation with Pozner. 

Georgia’s Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Gia Volski, said on Thursday that ‘no matter how annoying his personality is to me’, Pozner was not an occupier, and ‘persecuting an old man […] is not an indicator of the dignity that our nation possesses’. 

Paata Manjgaladze, an MP from the opposition Strategy Aghmashenebeli party, however, called for Zurab Abashidze to resign from his position.

‘He apologises to the Russian propagandists for throwing eggs, whereas he should apologise to the parents of the heroic boys who died on August 8-9-10’, said Manjgaladze, referring to the 2008 August War between Russia and Georgia. 

‘This is a matter of dignity, he should resign himself. What was he apologising for? […] This is an exposure of the Russian case that [the ruling party] Georgian Dream serves’, Manjgaladze said.

Cyber Kmara has previously published audio of Abashidze. 

A recording was published on 1 February of Abashidze appearing to speak to his Russian counterpart, Grigori Karasin. On that occasion, Abashidze confirmed the authenticity of the recording to the media.