Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili further stepped-up his harsh-worded rhetoric against Russia and vowed to resign if Georgia fails to restore control over breakaway South Ossetia by January 1, 2007.
During a political talk show aired by Imedi television on May 1 Okruashvili spoke about relations with Russia and said, while answering the question of why Georgia remains in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) against the background of deteriorating ties with Russia, that he will respond to this question “in exactly one week.” He declined to make any further comments on the issue.
Dubbed hawkish by opponents and the media, 33-year-old Irakli Okruashvili has increased his political pull after President Saakashvili charged him with promoting Georgian wine on new markets, observers say.
This new task has also triggered rumors that Okruashvili may be promoted to the Prime Minister’s position. But Okruashvili has strongly denied these speculations.
“My major goal, my purpose of being the Defense Minister, is restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity. I have no other goal more valuable than this and as soon as these two problems [the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts] are solved, I will no longer stay in politics,” Okruashvili said while speaking on the political talk show 'Pirvelebi' (Leaders).
Okruashvili reiterated his late December statement and said that Georgia will gain control over breakaway South Ossetia by January 1, 2007.
“If we fail to celebrate New Year in Tskhinvali on January, 2007 I will no longer be the Defense Minister of Georgia,” Okruashvili said.
He said that the conflict in South Ossetia will be resolved through peaceful means with the support of Georgia’s western partners.
“In a course of this year several very important events are scheduled; these are: the G8 summit and the NATO summit in November and we will spare no efforts to solve this problem through peaceful means with the help of our friends, our partners and especially with the support of the United States,” Okruashvili said.
Following Okruashvili’s highly-controversial and harsh statements towards Russia - including the statement that “even feces can be sold on the Russian market” - opponents have dubbed the Defense Minister a “provoker.”
This statement has also triggered discontent among some Georgian wine-producers, who are desperately trying to re-enter the Russian market, which was closed on March 27 after the Russian chief sanitary inspector said Georgian wines contained pesticides.
But Okruashvili, who has just recently visited Ukraine in the capacity of Georgian wine promoter, says that the Georgian wine-makers should forget about the Russian market and diversify their foreign trade to western markets.
He said once again that Russia is “a low level consumer market” and many Georgian wine companies should increase the quality of their products.
Okruashvili admitted that his statements towards Russia are very strongly worded “but this is the only language which is understood by Russia.”
“Of course we should not talk like this with Russia alone, but with anyone. But, unfortunately, this is the only language which is understood by Russia, this is the only effective language with which we can talk with Russia. I have learned this from my two or three years of experience of having relations with them,” the Georgian Defense Minister stated.
Okruashvili also admitted that one of the purposes of his controversial statements was to trigger more international interest in Georgia’s wine row with Russia.
“My statements about Russia and stirring-up things [in regards to] this issue was a result of an attempt to achieve a certain international effect. Now the international community knows that this is a confrontation between Georgia and Russia because someone among the Russian authorities does not like the fact that Georgia has a significant increase in economic growth rate… and they do not like that they have failed to decrease this figure [the growing economy] by imposing an energy blockade [referring to the explosions of two gas pipelines this January] or through the increase of the gas price,” Okruashvili said.
He also accused the Russian special services of masterminding provocations in Georgia’s predominantly ethnic Armenian populated town of Akhalkalaki in order to hinder the withdrawal of the Russian military base there.
“A large rally is planned in Akhalkalaki on May 3 in an attempt to hinder the first stage of the withdrawal of the Russian military base there and the organizers of this [rally] are employees of the FSB [Russia’s Federal Security Service],” Okruashvili said.
A small rally was held in the predominantly ethnic Armenian populated town of Akhalkalaki on April 25 to protest against the withdrawal of the Russian military base. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on April 26 that the pullout of military hardware from this base was hindered because of this protest rally.