TBLISI, Georgia – Georgia’s pro-Western president said yesterday that Vladimir Putin remained determined to kill him as part of his ambition to restore Russia’s former Soviet empire.
In an interview with The London Times, a year after the war between the two countries, Mikhail Saakashvili said that Georgia’s survival as an independent state threatened Putin’s reputation as a strong ruler. Only continued support from the United States and Europe prevented a Russian invasion to install a puppet regime, he warned.
With tensions rising along the front line between Georgia and Russian troops in the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Saakashvili said that the Kremlin was testing the resolve of the West.
“Putin has to break our neck. He has to fulfil his solemn pledge to hang me by a certain part of the body,” he said. Putin told French President Nicolas Sarkozy during negotiations to end the war last August that he wanted to hang Saakashvili “by the balls.”
“Putin has every reason to go after us and finish the job. But he’s a street guy who’s still afraid of the policeman and this time the policeman called and warned him,” Saakashvili said. “But the guy is getting desperate. From his perception there is unfinished business in Georgia. Once you fail to do things you are no longer boss in the neighborhood.”
Amid international concern over the possibility of renewed hostility, President Obama telephoned Dmitri Medvedev, his Russian counterpart, to urge restraint, while Vice Presient Joe Biden called Georgia. The European Union also appealed for calm to avoid any repeat of a crisis that plunged relations with Russia to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Saakashvili said that Mr Putin wanted to destroy Georgia to reassert control over the Caucasus region, the critical conduit for pipelines that bypass Russia and carry oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea to Europe.