In an interview with the Tbilisi-based Imedi television aired on June 18, President Saakashvili said that Georgia’s top priority is restoration of its territorial integrity and all the rest is less important.
When asked what will happen if Russia guarantees Georgia’s territorial integrity in exchange of Tbilisi’s refusal on NATO membership ambitions, Saakashvili replied:
“Our major problem is territorial integrity. We say to Russia: friends, if you solve this problem with us, we assure you that all the rest issues are tenfold and hundredfold less important… If Georgia’s territorial integrity is restored with the Russia’s assistance, we will return then to this [NATO] issue. We will anyway be and we are part of the Euro-Atlantic space with our values. What will be the forms of our future steps and further stage of our [NATO-Georgian] cooperation will of course depend on a concrete reality. Georgia’s strategic course will not change, but I want to repeat once again that all the rest in this [strategic] course, apart of our territorial integrity and welfare of our people is not dominant; all the rest is twofold, threefold, hundredfold less important,” Saakashvili said.
But he also noted that Georgia’s NATO integration is “an irreversible process.” He said that although majority of NATO-member states are in favor of “Georgia’s immediate membership” there are “two-or three NATO-member countries” which are hesitant.
“So we need to work with these [hesitant] countries,” he said.
He also said that Russia should not be concerned over Georgia’s integration into NATO.
“The United States and other members of the NATO have no plans to deploy their forces on the territory of Georgia… We are creating our own armed forces, which will become major guarantor of our security,” Saakashvili said.
Saakashvili said that Georgia’s presence in the Euro-Atlantic space is a natural process, “as Georgia is needed by rest of the world.”
He said that Georgians have always played “an important part of the world security.” “It is well-known historic fact that Iraq was governed by Georgian Mamluks and the Iraqi statehood has been created by the Georgians and even now Georgian [troops] are in Iraq [as part of the coalition forces],” Saakashvili added.
Talks with Putin
In the interview with Imedi TV Saakashvili also spoke about meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, which was held in St. Petersburg on June 13, and said that “talks were very difficult.”
He said that the most important result of these talks was that “we have resumed a dialogue.”
“The second important result is that the entire world and our Russian partners as well have seen that Georgia is a country which will always defend its dignity and interests,” Saakashvili added.
He said that he felt “very comfortable” while negotiating with Putin.
“For me talking with Putin is very easy, because on the personal level we find common language very easily,” Saakashvili added.
Saakashvili said that this meeting was a result of “bilateral consultations” between Russia and Georgia, including at the Foreign Ministers’ level.
“Americans had no role in organizing this meeting,” he said.
He stressed that Georgia “should spare no efforts” in order to have a non-stop dialogue with Russia, as it is “very important” for Georgia.
Saakashvili said that it is of Georgia’s “vital importance” to have “close friendly relations” with Russia based on principle of equality.
Saakashvili said that issues related with the Russian-led peacekeeping operation in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones were discussed during the talks with Putin.
He said that it is up to Georgia to decide fate of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and no bilateral – Russo-Georgian – decision is needed in this respect.
But he said that cautious and restraint should be demonstrated while dealing with this issue.
The Georgian Parliament is expected to decide by mid-July whether to demand Russian peacekeepers withdrawal from Abkhazia or not.
“Everything will depend on how relations will develop and what will be the reality,” Saakashvili said.
He also said that similar approach should be demonstrated towards the Georgia’s presence in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Saakashvili said that Georgia is holding now intensive consultations with CIS member states to avoid problems in bilateral ties in case of withdrawal from the CIS.
“We have very pragmatic approach to this issue [CIS]. If there is something positive for us in this space [CIS], we will maintain them [positive aspects]; but we are not going to deceive ourselves and our population by formally being in the [organization], which gives us nothing,” Saakashvili said.