President Saakashvili told Russia “not to play with fire” by hinting at possible recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after Kosovo declares independence.
Below is Saakashvili’s statement made at a cabinet meeting on February 16, after Foreign Minister Davit Bakradze told him that the Russian Foreign Ministry’s February 15 statement about Abkhazia and South Ossetia was “very alarming”:
“In Moscow I will have an opportunity to discuss Kosovo’s independence and the conflict zones in our region with President Putin [Saakashvili is due to meet with his Russian counterpart on the sideline of an informal summit of CIS leaders in Moscow on February 21].
There are some indications that Russia may take certain steps.
First of all, I want to remind our colleagues in Russia that the people hosted yesterday [at the Russian Foreign Ministry] – [Sergey] Bagapsh and [Eduard] Kokoity [Abkhaz and South Ossetian leaders, respectively] – are the very same people who have been threatening to down Georgian aircraft and are engaged in inciting illegality and terrorism.
These are the people who carried out ethnic cleansing and this type of high-level meeting with them [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met the secessionist leaders] does not serve the interests of Russia and does not make any sense.
I’ve heard statements that Russia has a right to protect its citizens on Georgian territory. If there are Russian citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, they are there illegally and we do not recognize their citizenship [the majority in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are Russian citizens].
No state has a right to hand out its citizenship to those on our territory without the consent of the Georgian authorities and then to state its readiness to protect, let alone protect with force, their citizens.
On the contrary, everyone living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are, according to our laws, citizens of our country and we have a constitutional commitment and a right – based on international law – to protect our territory and our citizens there.
I call on our colleagues [in Russia] not to play with fire. We want to resolve bilateral issues in a civilized and friendly way.
Our ancestors bequeathed those territories to us and many Georgian generations shed blood to protect them, so it is not for anyone to question the territorial integrity of Georgia and its borders. No one will ever be able to do that while we are alive.
Before launching a new round of talks, I ask everyone, including our friends in Moscow, to take this into consideration.
In the meantime, we [in Georgia] should all be very watchful.”