Nicolas Sarkozy saved the President of Georgia from a threat by Vladimir Putin to depose him from power and "hang him by the balls," according to an account that emerged today from the Elysée Palace.
The Russian Prime Minister told the French President of his plans for deposing the Tbilisi government and disposing of President Saakashvili when the French leader was in Moscow last August to broker a cease-fire in Georgia.
Jean-David Levitte, Sarkozy's chief diplomatic adviser, reported the exchange in a magazine today ahead of an EU-Russia summit in Nice Friday chaired by the French leader and President Medvedev.
With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on Aug. 12, Sarkozy told Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia, Levitte said.
"I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," Putin replied.
Sarkozy responded: "Hang him?"
"Why not? The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein," Putin said.
Sarkozy replied, using the familiar "tu": "Yes but do you want to end up like (President) Bush?"
Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: "Ah, you have scored a point there."
President Mikhail Saakashvili, who was in Paris to meet Sarkozy Thursday, laughed nervously when a French radio station read him the exchange. "I knew about this scene, but not all the details. It's funny, all the same," said the Georgian President.
Putin's reported remarks appear to confirm that he was calling the shots in Moscow and not President Medvedev, who was Sarkozy's host at the Kremlin meeting.