In an interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the South Ossetian conflict directly concerns Russia as far as Ossetian people were “divided into two parts” and “now part of the Ossetian people live in Russia.”
The Republic of North Ossetia - Alania is part of the Russian Federation. According to a 2002 census, 62% of it's population, over 400,000 people, are ethnic Ossetians.
“Do you and your readers know that the Ossetian people claim that in recent history ethnic cleansings occurred twice in Ossetia? And they describe it as genocide by Georgia. It [occurred] in the 20s and the 80s. This is a major problem,” Putin said in the interview which was published by the Süddeutsche Zeitung on October 10.
Putin said that Georgia is perceived in the region as “a micro-empire of the regional nature.”
“In the case of Ossetia, during Soviet times this republic was simply divided into two parts:the Russian North Ossetian Republic – Alania in the North Caucasus, which is now part of the Russian Federation, and another part that was handed over to Georgia and is today called South Ossetia. Today this unified people has become divided. [It is the] same thing that happened with the Federal Republic of Germany and the former Democratic Republic of Germany. The latter was a result of World War II, and now what we have [in the Caucasus] is a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now the Ossetian people are in a similar situation to the one in which the German people were after the World War II,” Putin said.
He added that there is a “similar situation in respect to Abkhazia” because many nationalities living in Russia’s North Caucasus “consider themselves to be ethnically very close with the Abkhazians.”
He said that a “humanitarian and political-diplomatic” approach is needed to solve both of the conflicts.
“We are ready to help Georgia to restore its territorial integrity. But we believe that this can be done only based on the will of the Ossetian people. It is impossible to force them [the Ossetian people] to do it. Diplomacy, accuracy and humanitarian measures are needed,” Putin said.
He said that Moscow has delivered this message to Tbilisi many times, “but they spare no efforts to [try to] solve this problem through military means.”
Putin said that “unlimited militarization is ongoing in Georgia, and Tbilisi is consistently violating all the previous agreement and staging provocations in the conflict zone."
He went on to say that: “The current Georgian leadership thinks that deteriorating Russo-Georgian relations can help them to solve their problem related with territorial integrity.”
Putin denied that Russia’s current economic sanctions on Georgia are motivated by Tbilisi’s pro-western policy.
“No, it’s not true. This is a choice of the Georgian people. We always respect this choice… In past times Georgia has requested to be part of the Russian Empire [eastern Georgia became part of the Russian empire in 1801]. This was a choice of the Georgian people. Georgians, like Russians, are Orthodox Christians… Many Georgians work in Russia and we are very proud that they have chosen Russia as their second homeland; they have contributed largely to the development of our country, the development of our culture,” Putin said.
The Russian leader noted that Moscow “was tolerant towards Georgia’s anti-Russian rhetoric, [but] when they moved towards provocative actions – the arrest of our officers – we simply had to respond.”
He also noted that the arrest of the Russian military officers came on the eve of local elections in Georgia. “I do not know if it was a coincidence, but it is inadmissible when some kind of internal political problems are solved through stirring anti-Russian hysteria,” Putin said.
Putin also reiterated that Russia is committed to following an agreement to completely withdraw its military bases from Georgia by 2008.