President Saakashvili said on August 10 he did not want confrontation with Russia and was ready for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Speaking at a meeting with Georgian students, who had obtained state scholarships to study abroad, Saakashvili reiterated that maintaining unity and remaining calm would be Georgia’s only response to the August 6 missile incident.
He lashed out at opposition politicians who have criticized the authorities for “a failure to defend the country from air attacks.”
“The Georgian public is divided into two parts: one, which constitutes 99% and which is clear-minded… and the other, those fools who have been shouting: why haven't we downed [an aircraft],” Saakashvili said.
“I want to make it clear,” he added, “we are not in a state of war with Russia.”
He did, however, say that Georgia was modernizing its armed forces “to western standards” and “now we are planning to procure fighter aircraft to patrol our airspace.”
Georgia possesses mostly SU-25 Frogfoot aircraft, which are designed to attack ground targets.
Saakashvili also said that several months ago an air defense system had been put into operation. It is a Soviet-era system, he said, but had been upgraded. He did not give any further details.
Russian and Ukrainian media sources reported recently that Georgia had purchased an Osa self-propelled anti-aircraft system with missiles from Ukraine last year.
The president said six months ago Georgia didn't even have radars, “but at this time we have been carefully recording all the information [about the violation of Georgia’s airspace on August 6] and have handed it over to the international community.”
Despite these military procurements, he said, “we will spare no efforts to avoid involvement in a large scale military conflict.”
He said Georgia’s major goal was to continue working with western partners and to integrate into NATO.
Saakashvili said although Tbilisi wanted to cooperate over security issues with Russia, “we will not tolerate someone gaining security at the expense of our stability.”
“I don't intend on having a confrontation with Russia. We want to hold a substantive meeting with President Putin,” Saakashvili said.
Both Georgian and Russian officials confirmed in late July that consultation was underway to arrange a meeting of the two presidents sometime in August. The August 6 missile incident, however, has undermined those efforts.
Despite his wish to meet Putin, Saakashvili in his speech was unsparing in his criticism of the Russian military establishment.
He said he had seen “one Russian general in hysterics and red like a crab, speaking utter nonsense.” Saakashvili was apparently referring to comments made by Russia’s military chief of staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, who said the August 6 missile incident had been a Georgian provocation aimed against Russia.
“Remarks of this kind are a sign of weakness,” Saakashvili said, “Georgia is no longer a country to be easily swallowed up.”
Saakashvili stressed that the situation had changed and the international community now stands beside Georgia.
“No one internationally noticed in 1992 when Sokhumi was bombed… or when Pankisi gorge was bombed in 2001 and in 2002. Upper Abkhazia [upper Kodori Gorge] was also bombed [on March 11, 2007] and despite huge resistance from the UN, we had the bombardment verified, thanks to our firm position,” he said.
Saakashvili said the August 6 incident had attracted even more international attention.
“A large group of independent experts from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Sweden and the United States is on its way to Georgia,” he added.
Georgia announced earlier that it wanted to set up “a group of international independent experts” which would probe into the August 6 incident.