Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, said President Saakashvili’s peaceful initiative on Abkhazia was “a right plan;” but he, however, also added the Abkhaz side’s consent was also needed for its implementation.
In an interview with the France's Le Monde newspaper, published on May 31, Putin also said that he personally helped to return 55,000 Georgian displaced persons back to the Gali District of Abkhazia.
He also suggested that the Georgian authorities were very often using the Abkhaz issue for internal consumption, especially on the eve of elections.
Below are those extracts from the interview in which Putin speaks about Georgia. The full text was posted on the RIA Novosti news agency’s website.
Question: Question about Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia does not recognize the independence of these two separatist regions, but Russia strengthens its control over them. But what about the status quo? Does not the current status quo suit you? Maybe, this is the best solution of the problem?
Putin: Have you said “separatist?” Why don’t you use the same term in respect of Kosovo? Don’t you want to answer? You have no answer. And you cannot have.
Question: But there were many Georgian refugees in Abkhazia. The situation is absolutely different there.
Putin: No, not different. Thousands of Serbs cannot return to Kosovo. Hundreds of thousands. Quite the same. Where have you seen the return of refugees to Kosovo?..
…As far as outflow of the Georgia population is concerned, yes, that is right. But 55,000 Georgians have already returned back to the Gali district of Abkhazia. It could have been possible to continue this process if there were no forceful pressure from Tbilisi.
You know that in 1919, when the so called Socialistic Revolution, or as it is now referred the coup, happened, Georgia emerged as an independent state [Georgia announced its independence from Russia on May 26, 1918]. [South] Ossetia also announced that it did not want to be part of Georgia and wanted to be part of the Russian Federation. And the Georgian authorities have undertaken several retaliatory expeditions, which Ossetians still call cleansing and annihilation.
These conflicts have deep nature. And patience and respect to these small nations of Caucasus is needed in order to resolve these problems, instead of forceful pressure.
Much is spoken now about downing of several Georgian unmanned aerial vehicles over Abkhazia. But why is not anyone saying anything about the fact, that existing agreements prohibit flights over this conflict territory?
What are these [Georgian drone] flights?” Putin said. “It's reconnaissance. And why do you conduct reconnaissance? To support military actions. Does that mean one of the sides is preparing to spill blood? Do we want that? No one wants that.
So to live in the common state and especially to make small nations want it, it is necessary to build a dialogue with them. That is what we are calling on our Georgian partners and for the forceful pressure…
…Ossetians have been divided into South Ossetia and North Ossetia. But that is the same people. One part [of Ossetians] are in North – in Russia and another part in South – in Georgia. Normal, peaceful dialogue is needed.
Question: President Saakashvili has offered a peaceful plan for Abkhazia, which envisages ‘unprecedented autonomy’ – this is a quotation, as well as the post of vice-president for an ethnic Abkhazian in the Georgian state and the right to consultation over the entire legislative reform. Is it acceptable for you?
Putin: It should first of all be acceptable for the Abkhazians.
Why has this ethnic conflict started? After disintegration of the Soviet Union, the authorities in Tbilisi made a decision and cancelled an autonomous status of these republics. Who has forced them to do it? And immediately, an ethnic conflict had started, the war had been launched. Now, they say: no, we are ready to return to it. We will grant you a status of autonomy, which were taken away from you several years ago. Apparently, the Abkhazians do not believe in it any more. They think that after some years they will again lose something.
It is necessary to gain patience, it is necessary to launch a dialogue. We have fostered the return of those 55,000 Georgian refugees, about whom you were talking, to the Gali district of Abkhazia. Actually, we have done it. We have convinced the Abkhazians to let them in Abkhazia and provide normal living conditions for them. Russia has requested the Abkhaz leadership about it. I am saying it directly, without hesitation. I was personally involved in it. I have requested the Abkhaz leadership and they did it. And we have developed an entire plan of joint activities, energy development, border cooperation, infrastructure reconstruction; we decided to rehabilitate the railway. Then, everything was suspended and forceful actions were launched again. Because elections were coming up, because it was necessary to show how bold they were, that soon everything will be settled. Such things, which are dragging for centuries, cannot be adjusted under the internal political calendar. It will give nothing good.
I want to believe that the plan, which Mikheil Saakashvili proposed will gradually be introduced because overall it is the right plan. It just needs the other side [the Abkhaz side] to agree to it. You need to conduct a dialogue.