Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was willing to restore relations with Georgia “in full scale” and called for cooperation between security services of the two countries in combating crime and terrorism in order to pave the way for lifting visa rules for the Georgian citizens.
Speaking with the state-owned English-language Russia Today television on June 11, Putin said that he “cannot imagine” reversal of Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; he also said that it was “a red line” for Georgia too and added that the problem should be resolved “based on respect of interests all the people living in these territories”.
“The incumbent President [Mikheil Saakashvili] made a huge mistake. I spoke for many times with him about it and I think he won’t be denying it; I was telling him: ‘Mikheil Nikolayevich – anything but don’t bring things to bloodshed’; and he was telling me all the time: ‘Yes, yes; we’ll be patient; we will be working with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.’ But, unfortunately, everything ended up with war,” Putin said.
He said that “many in Europe and the United States, as well as in Georgia are often blaming Russia.”
“But I think, that any objective observer understands, that Russia has nothing to do with it. Ethnic conflict lasts not dozens but probably hundreds of years,” he said. “Patience and statesmanship was needed in order to build relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia in frames of unified state. But unfortunately it was not possible to do.”
“As a reaction to those developments, Russia took the step which led to recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”
“I cannot imagine reversing this step, I simply can’t imagine it,” Putin said.
“But that’s a red line, which Georgia cannot cross either; it fights for, as Georgia calls it, restoration of territorial integrity. This is an issue that requires a careful consideration and not only a competent solution, but willingness to solve this issue based on respect of interests of those people, who reside in that territory; I won’t elaborate more precisely. If a respectful stance is shown towards all the people living in these territories and if solution is found based on this approach, it can serve as a long-term [solution]. But it can only be done by the people who live there, without imposing on them any solution from outside,” Putin said.
Putin welcomed Georgia’s decision to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. “As you might notice, we are also reciprocating,” he said.
Putin also said that Russia was ready to cooperate with Georgia in providing security to the Olympic Games.
“We are ready for cooperation with Georgia. We want to restore relations with Georgia; we have very warm attitude towards Georgians. We are very close to the Georgian people,” Putin said. “I met with Catholicos [Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II]… He’s a very kind person and he’s a real Georgian. There was not even a second [during the meeting] when he was not speaking about the interests of the Georgian people and was doing it so wisely, softly and calmly.”
“You know that we decided to allow the Georgian products on the Russian market. We understand that it might not be a key issue, but anyway this is an important one for Georgia and for its economy. We will further take actions in this direction. We will develop relations and the most difficult issues of course, as I have already said, should be solved only by those people, who live in this territory through dialogue without any outside pressure,” Putin said.
Asked what should be done in order for Russia to lift visa requirements for the Georgian citizens, Putin responded: “That will be possible, if we really work jointly in fight against crime and terrorism.”
“You probably know that terrorist elements are constantly infiltrating, were infiltrating, into Caucasus, into our [territory] from the Georgian territory,” Putin said.
“We want to cooperate, want to work with Georgia, want to restore relations in full scale. If we can establish such work in the sphere of law enforcement agencies and special services, that will be the first step towards restoration of visa-free regime,” Putin said.