This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," August 15, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, his nation under attack, Georgian Mikhail Saakashvili will not surrender, ever.
He is here with us now, joining us out of Georgia.
Mr. President, can you hear us?
MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI, PRESIDENT OF GEORGIA: I can hear you well.
CAVUTO: Mr. President, how are you holding up?
SAAKASHVILI: Well, we are holding.
I said from the very beginning that we will never surrender to this brutal Russian aggression and invasion. The Russian tanks have been going around the country. We had, today, Secretary Rice here. We had very good talks. On our part, we signed cease-fire agreement, and we are waiting for the Russians to withdraw and leave it with most of their troops in my country, but they are still not moving, and, basically, they are even widening their areas of occupation at this moment, as we speak.
CAVUTO: So, Mr. President, the Russians say they are withdrawing. You are saying they are lying?
SAAKASHVILI: Well, I am just saying what I am saying.
It is easy to verify. They occupied three or four new urban centers. And they are moving around the country. Not only they are moving around the country, that they brought in lots of irregulars and mercenaries with them go around, loot, or kill, rampage.
I have heard the Human Rights Watch report. This is the human rights watchdog that goes around. And it basically talks about tremendous atrocities done by people who came in with Russians committed against populations. So, we really are seeing crimes against humanity.
It is not my words. I am not playing -- doing blame game now. This is impartial observers saying that in my country and as time goes by.
CAVUTO: Mr. President, part of the agreement that was cobbled together to get the fighting to stop, and that Condoleezza Rice was a part of, allows for Russian peacekeepers to remain in South Ossetia. That was a sticking point for you. And I am told that you were against that, but ultimately decided to accept that.
How long are those peacekeepers going to be there?
SAAKASHVILI: No, I -- we all know that these are not peacekeepers. We know that these are occupiers.
What we accepted is that these occupiers should withdraw from the rest of the country. And, there, we should have urgent international mechanisms found and general international peacekeepers should be brought on the ground. I will never reconcile, never ever, that any of these criminals -- and that is what basically most of them are, because they have been involved in all these atrocities -- stay on my territory under some pretext of being peacekeepers or basically -- they are peacekeepers in terms of keeping peace here and peace there of their former empire.
But that's not the way the world should function. And there should be no vindication over -- for their aggression. We are no longer living in the (INAUDIBLE) invasion of Afghanistan or Czechoslovakia for that purpose. The international community, I think, is waking up. There was very strong statement by President Bush, several statements. I am grateful for that one. We had good talks with Secretary Rice. There is concerted efforts now by some European states finally to do something about it.
And my people are holding well, despite all these provocations, despite all these atrocities. They have used -- the Russians used cluster bombs banned by international convention against a peaceful population. They have fired at us medium-range SS-21 missiles. Soviet Union had the SS-20, but they never fired them at anybody. Soviet Union didn't fire in Cold War times.
And now these Russians are firing those missiles at mostly residential areas, as well as a pipeline carrying Caspian oil to European destinations. That is where we are.
CAVUTO: Mr. President, there are reports that our country and others had warned before you moved on South Ossetia week that the Russians were -- had a huge response planned, in other words, that this move would be a mistake, and that you ignored that advice.
CAVUTO: Is that true?
SAAKASHVILI: No, wait a minute. Wait a minute. We did not move on South Ossetia. We responded to Russians moving in. That's exactly what they were saying, that there is a Russian buildup over the border. That's exactly what we were saying as well.
We were saying that the Russians are preparing intervention, that the world should do something about it. But, unfortunately, response came to - - the response that came was too little and too late. And they came in, and they came in. And we were led to -- we were basically in the beginning alone against this machine, but that we had choices of to resist or to surrender.
And, basically, we chose to resist, although it came at a price. And, you know, what else -- even if our forces are so grossly unequal, what else would any responsible government or democracy do? Democracies do not surrender. Democracies are responsible for safety of their own people. If you are fired at...
SAAKASHVILI: ... tanks from neighboring countries come...
CAVUTO: All right. I am sorry, Mr. President.
CAVUTO: They claim, the Russians claim and some of these intelligence figures claim that you, in fact, started this, and they had warned you that, while you might be justified in starting it, while you might be justified, that you created the mess we have. What do you make of that?
SAAKASHVILI: Look, Russians can claim just whatever they want. This is exactly the kind of thing they were clinging, that Czechoslovakia provoked them in 1968, or that Finland attacked them in 1939. Any military expert can tell you that, if someone goes into a neighboring country, they can't mobilize within three, four hours 1,200 tanks.
Those tanks should have been long time ago on the roll and moving, and not just waiting somewhere and responding to us, that they were already moving in, as well as, you know, they had whole infrastructure built in. They mobilized reserves one week before fighting, and thereby created every woman and child from the area of fighting.
And this all clearly indicates that this was very well thought, prepared plan, and they executed it. And then we had to respond. And we responded. And it is hard to blame the victim for the aggression of the murderer or whoever.
But, you know, the fact is the fact, that, you know, there was a long time invasion. This is not the first thing Russia has introduced against us, full-blown embargo a few years ago. We survived, developed very well. They bombed us from time to time. We didn't pay much attention. We continued to develop.
They provoked us in all different directions. We did not get provoked. But when they start to shoot at you, when they start to bomb you, when they start to kill your people, and when they start to move in, and their attacks take such a large scale, then no democratic government can ever ignore it. And that is exactly what we have done. It is very unfortunate what is happening here.
It really is a worst nightmare any president of any country can find himself in. But that is, unfortunately, our fate at this stage. And we will overcome. We will arise. As I said, we are not going to surrender. They want regime change in Tbilisi and Georgia. They will not get it. They want to keep -- they wanted to rampage our cities, destroying our infrastructure. We will rebuild it.
They want to keep pieces of our territory. We will regain them. There is no way I can even reconcile...
CAVUTO: I'm sorry, Mr. President, but let me ask you about that territory.
You acknowledge that the peacekeepers, or whatever you want to call Russian forces that will remain, could remain for a while. Have you been told whether there is a timeline before they move out?
SAAKASHVILI: No, absolutely. Absolutely. We are talking about several weeks' time.
CAVUTO: Several weeks.
SAAKASHVILI: And we are not going to tolerate them for long, weeks, absolutely, or longer, because that's -- they have nothing to do. We are waiting for -- this is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSC, for their observers to arrive on site.
We are talking with the European Union to have European Union peacekeeping force mobilized. Secretary Rice spoke to today genuine, robust international peacekeeping force. This place needs rebuilding, peace, demilitarization, not more weapons and arms, and not more drunk soldiers with tanks and going through the villages and rampaging. And that is absolutely clear.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you, apparently, part of the deal originally that Russia wanted with your country, Mr. President, to cease hostilities was for you to step down and maybe even be tried for war crimes. Is that true?
SAAKASHVILI: Russians wanted -- war crimes, they do not care about it. Everybody knows who are war criminals here. But they certainly wanted to step me down. That was the demand towards different international figures, like Nicolas Sarkozy or Secretary Rice.
But it is not about me stepping down. Georgia has democratically elected government. Even if there is war here, we have parliament in session. We have robust opposition. We have free media. What they really wanted us to do, they had two things to do. They wanted either us to sign officially that we will -- we are willing to, you know, put under question the status of our territories in the future.
I flatly refused that. And then, they said, OK, if you refuse that, then you have to resign. Well, who should be president of Georgia? Of course, it is not about me. I don't -- could care less about me personally.
It is about free choice of the people. Georgia is being punished because Georgian people wanted to be free, free of pressure, to exercise free choice to which whom to be friends. And the Russians were irritated that we were close to the United States. We are very close to the United States. We are very close to the European Union.
That is our natural culture of Europe. Georgia is one of the most ancient Christian nations and European nations in the world. We have very deep and longstanding history, going back to golden fleece and Greek civilization and the Greco-Roman civilization.
This is a very ancient country, but also a very vibrant and developing new democracy. And that is the -- you know, they want to -- this is a wonderful piece of pie they would like to get it back and maybe swallow. But it's not going to happen, because...
CAVUTO: I am sorry, sir, but there is that view that they -- they do like your country a lot, and that they do not like you a lot. And when they attacked Gori a few days ago -- and we have that footage of you I think we are going to show here, Mr. President -- many claimed that this was actually an attempt on your life, that the Russians were trying to kill you.
SAAKASHVILI: Well, as I said, that does not matter, whether they were attacking me or my life. They wanted -- they are attacking my country, and they wanted to take and they took lives of many other people.
They dropped cluster bombs on that town of Gori when I was there. And they killed lots of innocent people, including children, women, old people, and even that journalist. And they wounded several other foreign journalists. They were specifically targeting journalists.
I saw a Georgian journalist having live broadcast when she was hit by a sniper in her hand, and bullet went through. It is amazing where this young girl found this courage. She continued to cover this story.
SAAKASHVILI: ... unendurable pain.
CAVUTO: How many do you know, Mr. President, have died in your country? Do you have any reliable figures to tell us?
SAAKASHVILI: We do not have final figures. I am afraid they are growing very rapidly, because one thing was Russian bombardments. And the other thing were these irregulars coming in and rampaging, and killing people, and committing ethnic cleansing.
And that is way more dramatic than just, you know, aerial bombardments. There were a number of -- the point here was that the military casualties were, in comparison, very little, but -- in comparison to the overall picture.
But what we had there is not going after military. We had going after population. We had punishing population. We had dropping the bombs on people. Military had their own air defenses, so they destroyed 20 or so Russian planes.
But, then, when those planes (INAUDIBLE) it is more riskier to approach the military, they start to approach overall population. And, of course, we did not have much of the things to protect the overall population.
And then there were rampages. There were these irregulars, paramilitaries, going through the places. And that was -- that is still very, very dramatic picture.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you, sir...
SAAKASHVILI: Thank you, sir, for having me.
CAVUTO: Really quickly, if you don't mind.
SAAKASHVILI: The last question, maybe.
CAVUTO: I know. And you have been very kind.
CAVUTO: NATO is apparently reconsidering plans for your country to join NATO. Is that true? And has this delayed it?
SAAKASHVILI: I hope they will.
I hope -- one of the main reasons why Russians started this whole thing was that they were irritated by NATO expansion. There's -- 65 percent of my people in a referendum in January voted for NATO expansion, for joining NATO. And, of course, if we have such a democratic exercise of free will with the people, Russians apparently -- some Russians decided to punish these people for this free choice of their will.
But, you know, I think it is high time to reconsider, because the fact that the (INAUDIBLE) despite the best efforts of President Bush, some Europeans have blocked membership action plan for Georgia and Ukraine. It was perceived by Russia as a major sign of weakness.
And they decided to exploit this weakness. And I think now everybody has learned their lessons, us very bitterly so, but the others as well that look on. I hope they will get now much more principled position.
We absolutely need to have -- free world needs to stand up. It is not about George anymore. For me, it is all about Georgia. For me, it is all about our killed people and destroyed towns. But, for the free world, it is about its principles and values. And if the principles and values are not worth anything anymore -- if free world is not willing to stand up for them, then what is the use of anything?
But I still believe that these free world democracies have this internal instinct to go for right cause, for justice, for -- to stop human suffering, and for democracy, and free will of the people, and support free wills of the people.
And that is what I always believed in. I have this unshaken belief in freedom and democracy. And, eventually, freedom will prevail. And this darkness, and the evil we are looking into the eyes of, it looks strong now, but there is no way it can be ultimately victorious.
CAVUTO: Mr. President, thank you very much. Very good having you on the show.
SAAKASHVILI: Thank you, sir, also.
CAVUTO: All right, President Mikhail Saakashvili, the president of Georgia.
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