President Saakashvili said that he had done everything possible trying to prevent war with Russia five years ago including through offering Moscow significant concessions, among them rejecting NATO aspiration, downscaling cooperation with the U.S. and a plan to carve-up Abkhazia.
In a lengthy interview with the Rustavi 2 TV, aired on August 7 on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the war with Russia, Saakashvili said that all of his efforts were fruitless as Russia was preparing for the war, which aimed at “complete destruction” of Georgia.
Commenting on Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev’s remarks in an interview with Rustavi 2 TV, Saakashvili said it was a clear message that Georgia should reconcile with losing of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, reject NATO integration and become a member of Eurasian Union if it wants to normalize relations with Russia.
“The Georgian nation… now faces a concrete choice – if the Georgian nation wants to say no to significant part of its territory, if the Georgian nation wants to say no to future development – that is saying no to Euro-Atlantic space… if Georgia is ready to say no to [freedom] of choice in internal [affairs], because Eurasian Union means imposing their rules, then of course there are certain possibilities with Russia,” he said.
He said that the only right option for Georgia is to continue “dignified, fast-track development without bowing a head” to Russia. “The solution is to run – that implies fast development,” he said.
Saakashvili said that if “we continue deluding ourselves” and hoping that trying to appease Russia would yield result, “it will lead us to losing the Georgian statehood.”
Saakashvili said that putting blame for the August war on both Russia and Georgia, which was the stance of the current government of PM Ivanishvili, was part of “Russia’s propaganda”.
“Because today there are many people, including in [Georgia’s current] government, who are parroting it [that both sides are to be blamed for the war]; such stance is only increasing threat for Georgia, because unlike 2008 today they [Russia] have a hope that there is a fifth column in Tbilisi… We have political parties which are being openly financed from Russia and they don’t even hide it and parroting their [Russian] propaganda… They gave leader of [Georgian Dream coalition Bidzina Ivanishvili], which won the elections, 2 billion dollars,” Saakashvili said.
‘Georgia was not Ready for War’
Saakashvili said that Georgia was not preparing for the war and August 2008 was the worst possible time for Georgia to engage in military actions as the country “was not ready for the war”.
He said that Georgia’s best military units at the time were stationed in Iraq; he also said that although at the time Georgia had bought air defense systems from Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, shipment of these systems was only expected by the end of 2008; he said shipments of military equipment was expected from Bulgaria as well and military field hospital was “on its way from Germany, which was then taken back by Germans”; he also said that at the time Georgia was in “final stage” of talks with the U.S. “to provide us with large number of Stinger” surface-to-air missiles.
“We lacked so many things; the worst time for Georgia to engage in [military actions] was summer of 2008 and Russians knew it very well,” Saakashvili said.
Saakashvili said that in an attempt to defuse tensions with Russia and to find solution to conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he offered Moscow in early 2008 number of serious concessions.
He said that in February, 2008 when he met President Putin in Moscow on the sideline of CIS summit, he told his Russian counterpart that Georgia was ready to reject NATO integration and to downscale ties with the U.S. in exchange for resolving conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“We told him we were ready to say no to NATO… ready to say no to enhanced ties with the United States and [to reaffirm] it by a treaty, if you help us with [achieving] progress in respect of [breakaway] territories. Putin did not even think for a minute, he looked at us, smiled and said: ‘guys we are not trading off your territories on your geopolitical orientation’,” Saakashvili said.
He said that in June 2008 he even offered Russia a controversial plan involving dividing Abkhazia, with Gali and Ochamchire districts under Tbilisi control and areas to the north of Ochamchire, including the capital Sokhumi, under de facto Russian control. When this proposal was first reported in the Russian press both Tbilisi and Moscow denied it, but President Saakashvili first confirmed offering such plan to Moscow in late August, 2008.
Saakashvili said in an interview with Rustavi 2 TV, that he was ready to make all the possible concessions before Russia just to avoid the war.
‘Condoleezza Rice was Saying Russians will not Do it’
President Saakashvili suggested that lack of reaction from the West to Russia’s military build-up and provocations in lead up to the war was encouraging Russia.
Asked about warnings from then U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza to do everything in order not to be dragged into military conflict, Saakashvili responded: “Condoleezza Rice did not believe that it [war] was coming. When now they say that they were warning us, it is in fact an attempt – everyone wants to be remembered in history in a good light; records exist; we were warning them that [war] would start and they were telling us: ‘there is no chance’. Her [Rice] favorite phrase was: ‘I know the Russians, they will not do it’.”
Saakashvili said that then German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who in July 2008 led the diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions by offering a plan for Abkhaz conflict settlement, was the first Western senior official who openly told the Georgian leadership about real threat of war from Russia.
“Steinmeier, who probably was less well-disposed towards us and was more pro-Russian, honestly told us what was going to happen; he knew Russians better,” Saakashvili said.
He said that Georgian troops’ resistance delayed Russian forces advance and it helped to buy time for diplomatic maneuvering and reaction from the West, particularly from the United States. He said that the U.S. decision to send its warship, loaded with humanitarian aid, to Georgia was an important signal for Russia.
“Eventually it was diplomacy and the U.S. sixth fleet that stopped Russia; do you really believe that [Russia] did not want to take over Tbilisi? Of course they wanted. They told Condoleezza Rice that their goal was complete destruction of Georgia,” Saakashvili said.