Russian President Vladimir Putin said on October 25 that the only reason behind Russo-Georgian tensions is Tbilisi’s plan to forcefully regain control over its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Speaking at a nationally televised Q&A session, Putin said that Russia has no plans to expand its territories, including the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but added that Russia will “closely watch international precedents,” and in particular Kosovo case.
“People in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are very much concerned over the militarization of Georgia. We are also concerned about it. The worsening of relations between Russia and Georgia is related only to this issue, with the attempt or preparation for a forceful way to a possible solution of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian problems. I do not think that it will benefit the Georgian people if the Georgian leadership chooses this way. I think it will be a huge mistake. This kind of development should not be allowed. If people want to coexist they should search for peaceful means and ways to compromise,” Putin said.
“We do not aspire towards the expansion of our territories. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia remains the largest country in the world. Our own territory is enough for us. But we cannot allow bloodshed in this region. And all our recent measures towards Georgia are linked not with Georgia’s plans to join NATO, or to any other issues. Any sovereign country decides on its own about its security. Our actions are conditioned by one thing: the aspiration towards the prevention of bloodshed,” the Russian leader added.
He said that conflicts in Georgia have historic roots and noted that “in the 20s there were three punitive operations by the Georgian armed forces against Ossetians. This is a serious [part of] history, which should be remembered, and very accurate actions are needed.”
Putin said that there is a contradiction in the international law between principles of territorial integrity and the right of self-determination.
“On the one hand it [the international law] talks about the protection of a principle of territorial integrity, and Russia follows this principle in respect to Georgia and in respect to any other state. But there is also the principle of the self-determination of a nation. But despite these contradictions we should search for ways out of this situation; at the same time we will closely watch international precedents, including the case of Kosovo,” Putin said.
While answering a separate question about Georgia, Putin said that Russia is ready to find ways to improve ties with the Georgian people.
“Georgian people were always especially close to Russia. I will remind you that Georgia voluntarily became part of the Russian Federation [smiles] – sorry, became part of the Russian Empire [in 1801]. And when it became part of the Russian Empire, it [Georgia] did not have these territories – neither Abkhazia, nor South Ossetia. But now this is no longer important any more. The most important thing now is that we have special respect towards the Georgian people,” Putin said.
“We are very much alarmed by the course of the Georgian leadership towards the solution of its territorial problems through the use of force. This is our major source of concern. This should be prevented. This is what we are doing in talks with our Georgian colleagues, as well as [in talks] on an international level, including in the OSCE. Many Russian peacekeepers died while serving this purpose. You know recently the UN Security Council passed a relevant resolution and I hope that the Georgian authorities will not act like those countries that ignore the opinion of the international community,” the Russian President stated.
Third question asked to the Russian President referred to the anti-Georgian campaign in Russia.
Putin said that there should be “no selective approach” based on ethnicity in the process of fighting crime.
“I call on the law enforcement agencies, as well as administrations, not only to refrain from actions of this kind, but I think that actions of this kind are inadmissible, especially if these people reside in Russia legally and especially if these measures target Russian citizens,” Putin said.
He said that the “Georgian case” has attracted more attention because of the tensions between the two countries.
“In the case of deportation cases, for example, Russia deported 15 300 citizen of one country, 13 400 citizens of another country were deported, and the number of deported citizens of Georgian is only 5 000. Do you see the difference? So it is not true to say that the measures are purely selective,” Putin said.