Georgian President Defends Russian War Decisions
TBILISI, Georgia – Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Friday defended the decisions made in the run-up to the August war with Russia, telling a parliamentary commission that Georgia had responded to Russian "intervention."
He also repeated assertions that his government had neither sought nor received advance approval of the Aug. 7 attack on the separatist region of South Ossetia, in particular from the United States.
"We didn't ask for a green light from anyone," he testified. "We were telling our friends that Russia was conducting these provocations, which were completely out of any sort of framework."
Russia's military response to the attack was overwhelming. It routed the Georgian military, inflicted severe damage on Georgia's economy and aggravated already troubled relations between Moscow and Washington — a staunch backer of Saakashvili.
Opposition politicians have been increasing their criticism of Saakashvili over the run-up to the war.
Georgia's former ambassador to Russia said Wednesday that Georgian officials perceived a July visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as encouragement for the use of force against South Ossetia. Former ambassador Erosi Kitsmarishvili also said people in Saakashvili's circle told Kitsmarishvili that Rice "gave the green light" — something Rice herself has denied.
Before the war, Russia had backed South Ossetia's separatist government and that of another region, Abkhazia, providing aid to both and giving Russian passports to many of their residents. Moscow has since recognized the two regions as independent nations.
In testimony Friday, Saakashvili called Russia's actions an "intervention."
"This wasn't a provocation, this was an intervention," Saakashvili said. "We asked our friends to guard us from all of this and they made these attempts; (EU foreign policy chief Javier) Solana came, Condoleezza Rice came. They tried to influence something but clearly this was already too late and it was necessary to act more actively."
"We constantly informed the Americans what was happening," he said. "They constantly said not to rise to the provocations. And in spite of all these provocations, they didn't think that Russia was preparing for an intervention. We ourselves didn't think, in the depths of our souls, that (the Russians) would do what they did."
Russia has said that it sent troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia protect civilians and Russian peacekeepers from the Georgian onslaught.
Washington has repeatedly denied that it had advance knowledge of the invasion or that it gave its approval.
Before his commission testimony, Saakashvili met with visiting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Speaking to reporters afterward, he was asked specifically whether Washington had given such encouragement.
"All I can say is it's an utter nonsense, and even if it had not been so, this gentleman (Kitsmarishvili) was not in a position to know it," Saakashvili said.
"This is because his position didn't allow him to be present at any of the meetings, at any of these contacts, at any of the official encounters," he said.