Georgian president Saakashvili must face international tribunal for the 2008 aggression on South Ossetia, President Dmitry Medvedev said in a joint interview with RT, Echo Moskvy and First Caucasus Television.
The interview, which took place in Sochi in southern Russia, covered a number of questions. At first, the questions were concentrated around Georgia's 2008 act of military aggression against South Ossetia, the current state of relations between Russia and Georgia, and the independent republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
When the Georgian journalist asked the Russian President what could be done to improve the life of the residents of the regions affected by the military conflict as well as the refugees, Medvedev said that restoring peace and civilized talks were of primary importance. “Diplomatic efforts, negotiations, and the willingness to listen to one another – these are the necessary prerequisites for resolving these issues,” the Russian leader said. He added that the sides need to act in accordance with the new political reality that had emerged three years ago.
Medvedev said that he had sought dialogue with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili from the very beginning, even before the events of 2008, but Saakashvili did not answer these calls, choosing to hold numerous talks with US officials instead.
However, the Russian president said that the US side is not responsible for Georgia’s 2008 act of aggression. “I don’t believe the Americans had urged Georgia’s president to invade. But I do believe that there were certain subtleties and certain hints made – statements like “It’s time to restore constitutional order,” or “It’s time to be more assertive,” – which could have effectively feed Saakashvili’s apparent hopes that the Americans would back him in any conflict,” Medvedev said.
Medvedev also admitted that he could hve taken a tougher approach in talks with the Georgian president. “Had I realized back in July 2008 that Mr. Saakashvili was cultivating such plans in his inflamed mind, maybe I would have addressed him in an even tougher way. And I would’ve tried to drag him out of his environment at home,gotten him to come to Russia or some neutral country, in order to talk to him; to simply talk him out of this. But of course, I had no idea,” the Russian President said. Speaking of Saakashvili, Medvedev stressed that the Georgian leader had committed crimes against the Russian Federation and its nationals. “Hundreds of our citizens were killed on his orders, including Russian peacekeepers. I will never forgive him for that, and I will not talk to him,” Medvedev said, when reporters asked him about the current state of relations between Georgia and Russia. At the same time, Medvedev said he realized that Saakashvili was the legally elected president of Georgia, and it was only up to the Georgian people to grant or deny him a vote of confidence. However, Medvedev noted that sooner or later, the situation would change, and the next Georgian president would have a chance to restore positive relations with Russia.
Speaking on why Russia’s positions on Libya and Syria are different, Medvedev said that there were no identical countries or identical situations. He said that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 40 years, and in one moment decided to use force against his own people – a move that was condemned by the international community and the Russian Federation alike. Syria’s Assad, Medvedev stated, has not yet taken such a step, adding that he believed there is still a chance for a settlement. President Dmitry Medvedev once again called upon Syrian leader Bashar Asad to start democratic reforms in his country, to restore peace between conflicting groups, and to start building Syrian civil society.
The Russian president continued that the Russian intervention in South Ossetia in 2008 was different from the one in Chechnya, because in 2008, Russia was not restoring order and fighting extremists, but rather helping a long-established independent state to thwart a foreign aggressor.
Medvedev also said that he had contacted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin only 24 hours after the military action began in Tskhinval as Putin was not in Russia at the moment, and some time was needed to establish a secure communications line. As for the suggestions that it was French President Nicolas Sarkozy who persuaded Medvedev to halt the troops advance on the Georgian capital, Medvedev said that this simply was not true. “No head of state is capable of talking another head of state into anything… Let me stress this again: taking cities was never our goal. Our goal was to stop the war machine, which was at the time aimed at two breakaway territories and, regrettably, at our citizens,” the Russian leader said.
Medvedev also said that Sarkozy had nothing to do with the Russian decision to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Medvedev also dismissed the US Congress’ statements regarding the Russian "occupation" of Georgian territory as groundless precepts. He said that the statements of the US Congress in support of Georgia “reflect the preferences of certain senior individuals in the Senate who, due to non-objective reasons, have aligned themselves with certain individuals,” and therefore cannot really affect Russia’s policies.
As for the lack of support from the side of the CSTO, CIS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Russian President blamed this on the fact that member-countries of these blocs all have their own territorial issues to solve, and therefore such an approach was understandable.
President Medvedev said that in his view, there were no pre-conditions for South Ossetia’s entry into the Russian Federation, even though the overwhelming majority of the residents of this republic were Russian citizens. “Looking at it now, I think there are no legal or de facto prerequisites for that to happen. This is the reason my decrees called for the recognition of the breakaway states as subjects of international law,” Medvedev said. At the same time, the Russian leader admitted that the situation might change in 15 or 20 years, and then other options could be suggested, like dual citizenship or something else.
Medvedev also repeated that Russia would continue to support Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and more people from these states could be granted Russian citizenship if this was what they want.
The Russian president also said that Russia will not make any changes regarding its political situation to win a better position in the ongoing talks over Russia’s entry to the World Trade Organization. “That would be immoral,” Medvedev said. “If they try to change current political realities, presenting it as a prerequisite for Russia’s WTO accession, we will not fall for it,” the Russian President said about Georgia’s stance in negotiations. “WTO accession is not too high a price to pay here,” he added.
The Russian leader noted that Georgia could make a good starting point for restoring its economic and political relations with Russia by removing its claims against Russia’s WTO entry. At the same time, Medvedev acknowledged that the political barriers in talks could push Russia back to the very beginning of the negotiations process, and that this would be bad for everyone.