The Interview of the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili for the Echo Moskvi

A. Venediktov: Mr. President, last time we met in February, 2006, before the war and I had asked you then, do you remember, it is an old story: we thought we were at the bottom and they had knocked from down meanwhile. This concerns Russia-Georgian relationships. Do these relations exist at all or no?

M. Saakashvili: Fist of all it was exactly February 2006 when sharp deterioration had started, because in several weeks later embargo was brought in for all our products in Russia. Later we had an issue here, in Georgia when the servicemen of major intelligence service of Russian army were arrested. Later it is natural that there were bombardments, some in Kodori gorge, later they bombed our anti-air systems in the East of Georgia. And later we had August 2008. This is why we are moving on inclined flatness. Now I think that our relations are at the bottom indeed, I mean that nothing will happen any more.

A. Venediktov: Will they knock from down?

M. Saakashvili: Now we have the following situation - relations between the states doesn't exist practically, because Russian government officially doesn't recognize our borders, they officially do not recognize even cease fire agreement and not even talking about some possible peace agreement. And they say that they are not conducting any serious negotiations. Even more, some representatives of Russian government don't even call us a country any more - they call us "territorial-ethnic unit". This is an old Soviet term, familiar for us from the very childhood. This is why when they have this perception of our country - that we are an ethnic unit that do even possess some territory - it is very hard to speak at the state level. However I think that international relations still exist. The planes fly, tourists come to visit us. For example when we opened North Caucasian border about 600 persons cross it daily and we are expecting this number to increase up to 1000.

A. Venediktov: It is on upper Larsi, if I am correct?

M. Saakashvili: This is the only legal border crossing point. Sure this all is reflected and the relations do exist, but sure if we discuss it in more broader perspective. Georgia started to come out of Soviet space very rapidly, from cultural, educational and especially in political and economic regards. And in this regard Georgia separates from Russia very rapidly. Because when you see how dependent some other post Soviet countries are on Russia, how tight they are related, for example if you look at Belorussia or Mid Asian countries, or even to Ukraine, sure the feeling of satisfaction exists that they couldn't harm us any more - we had lost practically everything and we had survived. And in this regards, it is a good feeling, because we had separated from this space and now we are less connected to Russia than for example Baltic or some East European countries.

A. Venediktov: Do you think that the decision made by you and your government regarding leaving CIS after the war was a bit early, because CIS could play the role of this playground? Especially when none of CIS countries recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

M. Saakashvili: No, first of all we had never doubt that any of these countries would recognize Abkhazia or South Ossetia. And the second - not because they love Georgia so much, but because Russia doesn't recognize the borders of these countries in whole. We understand very well that they can have more pretensions on Northern Kazakhstan or on every country on their borders than they have on our territories. This is why there is pure pragmatic interest from those countries not to play these games. Second is that CIS was never formal... It was pretty formalized union always, it never went far from formalization. This is why when I recall all those empty summits, where we used to go for getting on banquets after these summits - nothing was decided at these summits. We think we hadn't lost too much. Sure we have relations with these countries. We want to maintain good relations, but some other formats appeared. First is bilateral format. Second is Eastern Partnership under EU umbrella, where three Caucasian countries - Belorussia, Moldova and Ukraine can have relations between one another. I had a chance to visit some of these countries after all and we are maintaining relationships. If I will speak honestly I would say that we never had serious talks within the frames of CIS. CIS was a platform for talking to Russia.

A. Venediktov: But is this platform needed?

M. Saakashvili: Thing is that because Russia doesn't want to speak to us itself, CIS will not be able to help us. Now all the researches show that the support towards this decision growth monthly. If for example 30% used not to like it now we have 10-12%. Why? Because people understood that it is possible to live independently and we had somehow escaped from some space. We had escaped, but we were caught by our significant part - by our territories, they had torn parts of our bodies. But in hands of Russia these parts are only some lifeless formations and we still managed to leave this space. And escape means that we will heal these wounds and we will become stronger, more developed and we will by all means restore our territorial integrity. But it is better no one to hold the parts of your body. Standing independently is much better and somehow leaving CIS reflects exactly this for us.

A. Venediktov: Lets return to the issue of war in 2008. I want to ask you the following - I had witnessed - sure I was in neighboring room, but still - your negotiations with President Medvedev in June 2008, two months prior to war in Petersburg. When the members of your delegation and the members of Russian delegations left the room, he said: "Oooh, everything is all right". What happened?

M. Saakashvili: The point is that President Medvedev is in position to speak this way to anyone, even with us. And he tells everything what you wanted to hear.

A. Venediktov: But you also thought you agreed than.

M. Saakashvili: I think that many things unite me and Medvedev - we belong to the same generation, common courses and one and the same profession. But I think that the major thing divides us - Medvedev doesn't make any decision himself. He is selected in a very tight way. Here we do make decisions - not personally me, we all together. We are eligible to make agreements. We make decisions. In Russia only the one person is eligible to make decisions potentially, but we haven't seen any agreement to anyone. In this case it is Vladimer Putin. This is why when we saw Medvedev we had the same reaction on him as many European state leaders have on the conversation with Medvedev - that they always here from him what they want to hear. It is not a big science, but Medvedev can do it. A far as I understand Medvedev likes doing this. But sure when we held first conversation he said that he received these problems existing in bilateral relations as his heritage. It is not his fault, but he is ready to solve them and we had agreed to meet in the nearest future and to have serious conversation. After that I sent several letters to him and no answers followed them. More precisely the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote the answer and their tone was as radical as they could. It is more than we had ever before. And later I had a last meeting with him in Astana. It was a short meeting. It was obvious that he was trying to avoid me. It seemed that he already knew what could happen. And as much as I can imagine he was invited to some place our meeting and explained him specifically what were the plans in regards of Georgia in order to make sure that he would never participate again in an open and constructive conversation. It seemed like this by our own vision, because he avoided the contact after this. In Astana I somehow managed to meet him, however he was still trying to avoid me. It was obvious that he didn't want to speak to me and all my attempts to speak with him by phone were finished without any results after this. Even more - we were told that time hadn't come yet and we must wait.

A. Venediktov: Was it before war?

M. Saakashvili: Yes. Or just before the war, when the situation got extremely tense and all my attempts to connect him were limited by one and the same answer: "Time will come and we will contact you back".

A. Venediktov: Lets speak more about the war. Now almost three years had passed and would you do something in a different way?

M. Saakashvili: I was asked regarding it many times, but in order to do something in a different way there must be two sides. When one side that is rather big than you and it wants war the small country has no chance to avoid it. What could Poland do in order to avoid German intrusion? What could Finland do in order to avoid invasion? If they would say specifically - hei, Finland, give us your territories - it wouldn't do so.

A. Venediktov: So you believe that it was impossible to avoid the war?

M. Saakashvili: I think that the decision regarding it - and it has been proved many times, later even by an act - Putin took in 2006 or maybe in 2005. I think that this was connected to the revolution in Ukraine partially, partially to the internal situation in Russia, partially his confidence that South Caucasia is over that in order not to start it all over again something is needed to do in South. There were many factors. Georgia was of ideal size, in regards of territory, in regards of reason of why it was possible to start war here. In regards of none existence of serious big armament and armed forces. And for example all armament remained in Belorussia or in Ukraine or in Central Asia. They took everything out of here, this is why we had no serious armament, we had small professional army that couldn't block all entries of the country this is the major minus, because they weren't able - they weren't that many physically. And it was a perfect reason. Before that were several years of artillery-propaganda training, especially in 2006. I think that Putin came very close to the decision of attacking Georgia in 2006, but at some point he stopped. I think he decided that first of all Russian armed forces weren't ready by that time the infrastructure in North Caucasia was bad. Second I think he was not ready in respect of propaganda. Because when they asked lists of Georgian children schools and many Russian children started to protest this, it didn't look nice. There was no ideal reason. But I think that in 2006 everyone who was around us came close to this issue. They waited for two years. It should be noted that there is such a talent - talent of waiting. He waited, but his decision was clear. We were already moving on inclined flatness. By the way they weren't even hiding it. Even more they were warning everyone, not us only. "We will arrange Northern Cyprus for you". But as it turned out he told the same to NATO Secretary General that just passed this saying and had no reaction on it. The Chief of General Staff of Russia warned in spring 2008 about possible war the whole NATO Headquarter at Russia-NATO Commission. Later they bombed us several times in order to check reaction. They bombed Kodori Gorge, facilities near Tbilisi - in order to check reactions. Even more - several days prior to the large-scale invasion they flew over Tbilisi on low altitude and stated first time that it was them. Earlier they used to say that we were creating these stories by ourselves. Again before the arrival of Condoleezza Rice to check the reactions, but there was practically no reaction... We must say that everything was planned perfectly.

A. Venediktov: So you are making compliments?

M. Saakashvili: Yes. When everything was already planned, when we were finally in tunnel. There was no way out. Sometimes I had thought that we should have screamed louder. And what? Louder we screamed, less serious was their perception of our country, because no one wanted to believe in it and many wanted to forget about it pretty soon. This was the reality.

A. Venediktov: You know that no matter what the Russian population believes in (it believes in different things) the most painful element was the death of Russian peacekeepers. As I know you had issued an order to make a research on this matter?

M. Saakashvili: No, no the point is that first of all no one. .. I want to say that no one even attacked Russian peacekeepers, but the commission that was pretty subjective...

A. Venediktov: what do you mean? Did they shoot themselves or what?

M. Saakashvili: He said subjectively that no one shoot the Russian peacekeepers on purpose. And there is not any single witness that Georgians had Russian peacekeepers on target. The matter is that the aim was clear: if they would respond in the direction of shooting. This was a response from the very beginning, but it was late respond and only had partial effect. This is why if the attack was planned on peacekeepers it could be type of prevention from purely military point of view. So we should had start indeed, we should have proactively attack them indeed, proactively start moving toward Roki tunnel and close it. Nothing of this type was done by Georgian side, exactly because of these considerations in order for us not to be blamed in unilateral aggression - first of all Russians.

A. Venediktov: We are still blaming you.

M. Saakashvili: Yes, yes, yes. But I believed to the end if we wouldn't give them a reason they will stop. But at the end we didn't wanted to believe that Russia would do it. All others were saying that it would never do it. We believed that it was a big misfortune, if something happens we will avoid it. Because this subjective mood was following me for a long time... I was visiting exactly the same sanatorium in Italy where were many Russians and TV showed the same videos all the time - that we were starting war: "Many of them are connected to the Russian government and they see that we are on holidays here with our families. They might call in Moscow and say that we are not going to do anything, he is here, very calmly".

A. Venediktov: One person called.

M. Saakashvili: But it turned out that I was too naïve as it seemed. This is why purely subjectively no one wanted to get involved in it and was self-assurance that if we act carefully the other side might not take extreme measures. I would say so.

A. Venediktov: According to the last message the war still continues. It is not over yet, right?

M. Saakashvili: It is not over from Russian side, because I almost can say that Russia doesn't recognize peace agreement and Russia officially wants to overthrow our government. This is an official position of Russian government.

A. Venediktov: I have never heard about overthrowing...

M. Saakashvili: They say that this government should change in Georgia. It is very clearly translated from their language - they will never hold a dialogue with this government... They do not say that they want to change us by elections; they simply say that we must change. This is why it is pretty obvious for us what do they mean. There is no peace agreement. First of all we had serious series of terrorist attacks - by the way they wrote about them in Russia as well and temporarily these attacks were stopped. However we are knocking on the wood (I still want to make sure that there are some positive movements in this regards). Because there was an explosion of marginal populist party office specifically where we had a victim, one person was killed. Here in Batumi, where there is practically no crime police officer exploded in the center of the city, the Chief of local Special Forces. And after one year of investigation all forces drove us to Russia.

A. Venediktov: But why does Russia need to explode Special Forces officer in the center of Batumi? Do you understand? What is this?

M. Saakashvili: Because it was considered (it was not right but still) that he participated in the battle with Russian Special Forces unit near to Kodori gorge in 2008, him and several more officers. And it was kind of revenge of GRU for the death of two Russian officers (two colonels died than). Later there were explosions near US Embassy, on the railway and we stopped several bombs on the way, because to be honest it was so transparent that during enough effectiveness of special services it was not hard to detain them. Just because they weren't professional terrorists, it was an ordinary local population that remained in occupied part and they were forced to take these bombs and leave them in markets or near NATO or some other office in Tbilisi. We have a suspect - Russian officer Borisov. Plus they were acting in such unprofessional way. After one explosion that was planned to happen at the railway - but we had stopped this bomb on the way on time - he called European observers that were there - because the person to whom they paid money informed them that the bomb was placed already. European observers have checked and officially recorded this. They asked European observers if the bomb exploded yesterday - but bomb didn't exploded. Sometimes it is so unprofessional that it looks like child game if the people weren't dying. We have specific information by the way it is proved by NATO countries special services as well. Hearings happened at NATO Headquarter, this is why no one will place this under the hesitation. I sent a letter to President Medvedev, where I specifically wrote about this - so he cannot say that no one informed him about this. Serious leaders of Western countries raised this issue before him like this issue was raised many times during the meeting with Russian foreign political department by Western leaders. Now we are waiting for reaction, because the letter is already sent to Medvedev. Sure he had not responded... because...

A. Venediktov: Just because who Saakashvili is?

M. Saakashvili: I represent for them the ancient remainders of the past that they should have hanged with one part of his body long time ago. I became political corpse already in 2008, but this corpse was left without burring for some reason. Georgian people aren't in hurry for burring me. This is why sure he will not respond. But they cannot have pretensions on the fact that they never received this letter, that they weren't informed. We had described everything in details.

A. Venediktov: Mikheil Saakashvili, son of Nikoloz, but on the other side Russian officials as far as I am concerned, the director of FSB stated about border crossing that Pankisi gorge became an issue again, boyeviks from Chechnya that you are training for the revenge and so on.

M. Saakashvili: You cane be sure that Pankisi gorge is such a small place that before I got there myself...

A. Venediktov: It was some times, you used to go there, I think it was in 2003 or 2004.

M. Saakashvili: Yes exactly. When I became a President it was no one there any more. But now it is the most peaceful place in Georgia and I can tell you even more we had closed the boarder together with Russians, we gave right to the migration body of Russia to enter there and work specifically with the "refugees". We handed them storages for arms that were there and gave permits to Russian helicopters to conduct flights and official inspection. So probably none of the countries would cooperate with such Russia as we did in this specific issue of possible boyeviks from Chechnya.

Now Georgia - this is all transparent. By the way European observers watch every move of Georgian armed forces on the whole territory. It is all due to our agreement with EU and not only at the line of demarcation. For example if you want to move a small company to the training range in 50 km - you must inform Europeans. They conduct monitoring on the permanent bases. Every 3 tracks with armament is under their control. Our country created total transparency in order never to have 2008 any more. No one wanted to control all of this preliminary. This is why in this regards the black holes cannot exit on this territory that is controlled. Many EU observers control these actions and than it is possible to say that they are participating in some terrorist attacks - it is impossible.

A. Venediktov: Are there EU observers in Pankisi gorge.

Saakashvili: Not only there are, but there is the whole line of them there and it is absolutely transparent there. Even a bee cannot fly in Pankisi so that the whole world knows about it. And the second issue - its impossible to fly there as a bee.

Venediktov: Lets speak about today, if you aren't against it. One more issue exisiting between Russia and Georgia now - as they say Georgia blocks Russia's entry to the WTO.

M. Saakashvili: Technically it is true that Georgia remains to be one of the barriers of Russia's entry to WTO. But during long period of time Russia was refusing to speak to us. They were telling Americans, Europeans: "This is your problem, they are your customers, discuss this issue with them". This was the part of package. They were explained that it doesn't happen this way. After that they had to go to some partial negotiations in Switzerland. Swiss side was the mediator and they wanted very much for us to reach this agreement and we say specifically that we don't want to solve all our problems using this WTO issue. We understand perfectly that we mustn't wait for some serious changes in conditions of current government of Russia and we mustn't wait for de-occupation until this attitude exists in Kremlin. But we wish that WTO to control the traffic on those borders of Georgia that is recognized by all international commonwealth, by all members of EU and so on, besides our neighbor Russia.

I also think that Russia pays minimum price for what it gets, but I once again repeat that they are refusing not only conducting negotiations with us in a serious way, but they don't even call us country or a state. It is hard to agree on something whey you are caller territorial-ethnic unit...

A. Venediktov: But this is neither the President nor the Prime Minister...

M. Saakashvili: But as far as I remember some unpleasant person who's name is Onishchenko called us this way...

A. Venediktov: He will help you in improving the quality of wine.

M. Saakashvili: Yes, unconditionally.

A. Venediktov: By the way people had proved this.

M. Saakashvili: I think Vladimer Putin did.

A. Venediktov: No, I am serious.

M. Saakashvili: I told Putin in 2006 that we will raise his monument one day as of the creator of Georgian modern economy. I said it very seriously in this regard. The idea of rising Putin's monument in Georgia is pretty unpopular, but some day in this regard his contribution will be noted by us and maybe by the history of Russia as well.

A. Venediktov: You say it ironically, but still if we return to the issue of WTO - if I understood correctly your minimal proposal is that some international organization to control these flows, right?

M. Saakashvili: Plus, by the way international customs union for example or European Union or any other organization that has regional or international meaning and where several countries are united and they will control it. I think that all other countries explained them well that it is up to them to make a decision whether they want or not to be members of WTO. Probably they cannot make others responsible in this matter and in this regard I think they will come closer to it in regards of purely pragmatic Russian policy.

A. Venediktov: Russia stated regarding this matter many times that we will start negotiations even with you in case if you will take legal responsibility not to use force for the return of occupied territories.

M. Saakashvili: First of all we do not consider that these territories are lost, we think that these territories are occupied by Russia temporarily and any occupation comes to the end. It is not only us who think like this - the European Parliament uses this term in every resolution, also the US government, many Parliaments and governments around the world. So, the occupation is a hard word. I think it is more difficult for Russians to hear it and let's say that Israel got used to this term.

A. Venediktov: Yes, the occupied territory.

M. Saakashvili: Just because there are specific legal obligations and it has some positive aspects regarding legal norms. Russia categorically refuses to use this term, because among them, the tough history of XX century, because the Russian people and the word "Occupation" aren't friendly. This is why they are in a new situation now, when Russia is called the occupant officially - and this is not very good for them. Last year I spoke in the European Parliament and I officially took responsibilities not to ever use force; more than that our official letters (legal documents) were sent to the UN, to the leaders of the European countries as the depositors as a unilateral warrantee from the Georgian side on it. What Russia demands from us is quite different. They demand from us to practically recognize these territories as independent countries, sign treaties with them and this way legalize the Russian occupation.

This will never happen no matter what the government of Georgia will be. We must understand what happens on these territories. Big majority of IDPs (we do not even ask of their ethnic origin), because we had heard many times that Georgians and Ossetians cannot live together and that the idea of our government is in...

A. Venediktov: This is not Russia - this is Kokoiti, sorry...

M. Saakashvili: Medvedev said this publically 4 times and I have heard that personally and the point is that this opposes the whole idea of my politics - to ask a person of his or her ethnic origin. The majority of our IDPs living in camps are Ossetians.

A. Venediktov: From Ossetia? South Ossetia?

M. Saakashvili: The majority of IDPs are Ossetians. Because who was on these territories? Ossetians. We were simply controlling the part of country, another part was controlled by so called local government and peacekeepers. The former separatists used to control the part that we were controlling. So in reality these Ossetians left those places. 6-8 thousand persons remained there among them for example the relatives of some of my friends that have no other place to go. They are old people that live in the villages and have no other place to go. This is a regular base in between of two gorges of a mountain, a military base, where there is just a small, but practically insignificant part of local population. Half of Abkhazia was totally empty - your heart stops when you see how empty it is. We should say honestly what is going on there: this is an occupational regime with all possible results.

A. Venediktov: But I think that, I am sorry for that, but there are so much opposing between Russian and Abkhazian governments. You know this better than me.

M. Saakashvili: I think that there are various groups in Russia that fight for these properties as it happens usually in such offshore situations. And this is why some local interest will sign this with great pleasure - one group will fight with another - if I speak honestly it interests me less.

A. Venediktov: But I am sorry, when Bagapsh was elected in past you were expressing some accurate hopes that some process could have start between two countries.

M. Saakashvili: First of all Abkhazia is not a country, it had never been a country.

A. Venediktov: I didn't say a state I used the word country.

M. Saakashvili: It had never been a country - it was one country here always - Georgia. Now I was in Venice, I look at every existing map, the oldest ones. I was raised in Abkhazia as in Georgia and I don't want to use history. You should look at these maps using history...

A. Venediktov: But the Shervashidzes, the nobles, was it a separate Abkhazia?

M. Saakashvili: Wait. The same way Tbilisi was divided into five units. I am not speaking about feudal dispersion. It is the best part of Georgia today, I want to say from Abkhazia by origin and all these ethnic origins by the way where there are Abkhazs and Jews... Now there is a Georgian diaspora in Israel and one of the leaders Iulia Berai - is from Abkhazia. I met her yesterday. The best part of them the most talented people are from Abkhazia by origin. And sure this is not a country it is an occupied part of Georgia.

The rest of Abkhazia and we understand it pretty well what their pretensions are. But we should understand that this part of Abkhazia is only half of those people of Abkhaz origin who live in Abkhazia.

A. Venediktov: But despite this...

M. Saakashvili: Yes, their number is between 80-100 according to the season, together with those people who live there. And of course this people mean a lot for us. At the same time I am pretty sure that they absolutely mean nothing for Russia, because Russia has more than 10 million people in Northern Caucasia. It is very tough there too to present their ethnic pretensions despite of very hard tension. They say that 100 thousand people are registered and will be accepted especially on the territory that has no formal legal status besides what I have already told you. We mustn't expect anything from them and I don't have any illusions. Serious processes will start in Abkhazia when Russia begins real modernization, real democratization, real transparency.

A. Venediktov: Uh, I will ask you a question here now.

M. Saakashvili: And this is why I don't think that this is the long-term process. I have optimistic attitude, I lived in the period of changes and saw how fast they can go. Those who never saw this it is hard to imagine for them such monoliths. How is it possible to happen? It can happen very rapidly. I was raised in the period of Soviet Union Monoliths and it fell apart like house of cards. So... I am not saying that Russia should fall apart, but I think Russia must change.

A. Venediktov: Which is more advantageous for Georgia - Putin or Medvedev? Not for Saakashvili but for the Georgian direction of Russian politics.

M. Saakashvili: I think what is more advantageous for multi-ethnic Georgian nation is advantageous for Saakashvili. But I think modernized and democratic Russia is advantageous for us. I don't have any illusions at this point regarding the current President Medvedev. I think if someone had illusions they are disappearing little-by-little about his perspectives to become the President of Russia. All the rest is up to Russian people to decide who will lead Russia in future. And I think there will be no other alternative for Russia but modernization, democratization and europezation. I think Russian elite has quite clear understanding of what they want. I don't observe Russian media, but I somehow feel, maybe instinctively that they are getting more open and close to modern standards - maybe by my observations on those tourists that come to visit Georgia. And finally I think that envisaging the fact that happened in North Africa that was behind Russia in regards of democratic background and development - Russia sure has perspectives.

A. Venediktov: Does North African version exist in Georgia?

M. Saakashvili: There was North African version in Georgia in 2003. I think that even earlier than 2003 in 90ies. But there is a big risk in Northern Africa for reformers to come back and will continue losing time the radicals will simply gain the victory. As it seemed it happened in 90ies in Georgia. We had entered 90ies without having any political elite compare to Baltic courtiers, Eastern Europe or Russia. So we entered absolutely strange area, we started doing something and made many mistakes, the same happens now in Northern Africa.

I think that Georgia is not only the imitations of Northern African processes that were planned in a distinct way by Russian special services and was not specially covered. In general the biggest majority of Georgian population think so. Unfortunately I think in the same way and it is very bad, because I don't want to play with these scenarios, I don't want to believe in conspiracy theory. But as far as I am concerned Russian always goes in the way of analogies. Kosovo was an analogy, now Putin promised me the Cyprus. Later was Kosovo. Kosovo became an analogy of recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But now as I understand someone is searching for analogies in Russia. Libya might be a good analogy for Georgia, but it is not so. The masquerade they arranged here in May is not like Libya. And the serious journalists in Russia understand this pretty well nothing to say about fact that no one buys it in foreign countries.

A. Venediktov: Democratic state is impossible without the opposition, this is some type of illness.

M. Saakashvili: No, it is more than that the nest development that took place in Georgia after 2008 was... We thought that is my opponent would win in the elections of January that could have been an end of the world. Why? Because this this man was saying that if he wouldn't win he would cancel the post of the President, that his program is live with "understanding" - he said this also in Georgian adequate. He took all questions as insults "what are your thought specifically about the deficiency in budget"? Or for example about unemployment. He was saying that he would live with "understanding". And he got almost elected. Many things had changed in Georgia after that. Now we have Parliamentary opposition that is left behind to our country with its popularity, but has bases all over the country, it is true their bases are small, but still nothing like this happened before. All other parties were based in the center of Tbilisi earlier and there was nothing else. Now there is an opposition that is everywhere and speaks about the subjects that are interesting for people.

A. Venediktov: What do you mean?

M. Saakashvili: I mean parliamentary opposition. There are several parties. Sure Christian Democrats might be the biggest among them, but there are some other groups as well. They all reduce the distance before the leading majority. It is very important. I think also that if they win next elections with some scenarios that will not be good for our county it will not be a catastrophe any more. And it is already good. So, it is a good partner in regard of there are specific debates on specific issues.

A. Venediktov: And are you done with the street episode. Do you think that street is over for Georgia already?

M. Saakashvili: I think if we would take a look what was going on in 2007, 2009 and 2011 these are three bid differences in one direction. I think that our Russian sponsors helped us a lot in it - they finally vaccinated our political spectrum against street policy. What happened? I think Russians achieved their aim. These actions in May for example. By the way they started PR campaign in advance - the direct payment was coming from Moscow - in whole West. But these campaigns worked in such countries as it is Finland, Belgium, where it is easier to work and where many people aren't interested in Georgia. They hired a PR company, they were preparing all of this during two or three months and we were observing it pretty well. Later they arranged this mascaraed in the center of Tbilisi - lets talk directly. So, we found ourselves in negative line of news for some time and it gave them moral satisfaction. But on the other hand we had reached our aim. Finally we moved from street policy to something more serious. So some vaccination took place. So they helped us somehow. And I think it is very important that not only the state reacts on such issues, but people started to react very calmly as well. Because no one died in 2007 or 2006 in the actions of police. But the reaction of society there was also different. Now everyone understands what happens. We had regrettable results, because people died not only during the demonstration, but because of the results of this demonstration.

I think that the society had more serious and solid reaction on it. So it showed that Georgian society develops, the rules of political games develop. There are various different forums where you can express your opinion. And together with all government is pretty popular, now we are more popular than ever, but this is different type of popularity. In 2004 when I had a speech for two hours 20% of population would listen to me on TV, it means that we had high rating. Now when I speak more thank three minutes people switch TVs on different channels, however the same percentage supports us or even bit more. So we don't have that euphoria any more. Euphoria is dangerous: today it is euphoria, tomorrow it could become different. This is more calm, mainstream European policy and is better in this respect.

A. Venediktov: Mr President, you speak a lot about Georgian opposition, people that are famous in Russia, about the sponsors from Russia. You said in the interview with Evgenia Albas in "The New Times" that you have proving documents and that you will publish them. Some people believe in you, but skeptics do not believe that much.

M. Saakashvili: Yes. First of all the list is specific and all of it were organizations.

What we saw publically were businessman working in Moscow and we know pretty well that without permission. But they speak about it on TV. First of all I was not the one who spoke about them and the organizers didn't hide it either. It was a curious that the bus for the demonstration was in Russian colors - I didn't pay much attention to it. When last week I saw the results of surveys the organizers of these demonstrations had 95 percent of negative. 95 % of negative is an absolute record in the history of Georgia. Even Mongolians had more popularity in Georgia in the past.

A. Venediktov: The surveys weren't held then.

M. Saakashvili: I think that if there was I doubt they would be more popular than this type of opposition.

A. Venediktov: But all these people are your former companions.

M. Saakashvili: Yes. Ant the whole beauty of the system is in it that we are not connected to one another with mutual defense, financial interests, neither with some cooperative that we all were members of but we are connected to one another with principles. Those people who will fell out of it - will fell and that's it. There was the Minister of Defense Okruashvili and he got corrupted. We reacted late on it and this reaction already represented a threat, but we had not doubt a lot. But his speech sounded as truth at that moment - a person who said the truth, but he only said the "truth" after serious investigation was conducted and all traced lead to him, I wouldn't even say anything regarding Nino Burjanadze, former Chairman of the Parliament. But she hadn't played the role as Okruashvili did. When we were fighting we were fighting with corruption, we arrested 6 members of government for corruption.

A. Venediktov: From your party?

M. Saakashvili: Yes, and all of them were ours, we never arrested anyone from the opposition. Later one minister, 8 or 9 deputy ministers and about 40 judges. All these people are appointed during our term. There are some principles that we shouldn't change, because what works well in this system is that we give personal example, all of us give.

A. Venediktov: So you say that you aren't corrupted?

M. Saakashvili: All leaders at every levels must show this example. In other case the system doesn't work, in other case any other scheme could be drafted. We permanently see that Russia directly copies some schemes from us. But I doubt they look like what we do here. But I always look at it with humor, the major thing is not how you drafted the scheme, but what you believe in. You can give example of it by yourself. If you only send your children abroad for studies, if your wife gives birth to every child in a foreign country, if you only buy property abroad and in general take all your capital abroad - you will never have a country. During last 6 years when more refugees appeared have positive migration balance, more people come back than leave the country. Envisaging the fact that that our country is rather poor than Russia in total.

So what does it speak about? The young generation is not going abroad, they come back, perspectives appeared for them. Because live is still very hard for pensioners. This is why we have our principle in this respect. When you have your own principles and someone fells out of it, it is a very fruitful process. Usually why people stay in politics instead of political union? Only when they have common interest. If you simply fell our of clan the whole clan gets damaged. For example you have common accounts in Switzerland, some offshore enterprises and so on. Sure you will not fell out, because you will lose shareholders. We don't have shareholders - we only have one stock. This is a stock of believe that we are creating something well. This is why I have no worries in this regards.

A. Venediktov: You have no worries if your colleagues will leave ans start fighting?

M. Saakashvili: No, 80% of our government remains the same for 6 years and it is very high rate for democratic country. This is very high rate and others fell out because of some various reasons. Mainly I say that the reason is that they didn't found themselves on the height of those moral principles that we want carry out in practice.

A. Venediktov: The last issue, or at least one prior to the last. Tell me please when I was coming here some of my friends who have positive attitude towards Georgia and you said: "Listen, maybe the government not the population got anti-Russian paranoia?" Multiple spy-scandals, (we spoke some about this issue, right?) Last occasion. Pardon me please, I know what does the personal photographer mean, I know how close this person is, I had worked with five Presidents in Russia. Maybe this is super jealousy? Because there is a Northern neighbor that was involved in war recently?

M. Saakashvili: I think no one has any doubts that we are the number one target for huge state that are managed by "Gebists". I have heard many times that Putin (from him personally) plans intelligence operations himself, how well he know the surnames of operational stuff. For example I remember how he called me regarding Batumi and listed the exact names, streets, cross-roads and so on and he listed the names of operational stuff that were working in that area specifically. He gets the huge pleasure by planning it all and this is why if some country presents so to say a field for such games - it is of course us. This is why I am not glad at all that we have hundreds and thousands of staff that are all day long occupied to organize it all instead of controlling corruption, for example. Just because we don't have indeterminate resources - there are specific persons, who have to fight with corruption, or be in charge of counter intelligence or be occupied with some other activities like fighting terrorism. We have many other challenges. Sure these games are going on and there is no paranoia. There is a specific...

A. Venediktov: For example you personally were fascinated with jealousy?

M. Saakashvili: Personally I am a person who always believes in everyone.

A. Venediktov: I somehow cannot recall such politicians.

M. Saakashvili: There is nothing worse than having doubts about someone always - I am not speaking about the politicians only, because it is self-destruction for any human being or character. You permanently think about it. This is why it is not good because of purely pragmatic reasons. Second - specific people are placed on records - for specific hearings, specific conversations, for specific money transfers, on the bases of specific activities. Unfortunately it all happens and by the way I think it happens very rarely in Georgia than it could be.

A. Venediktov: The last issue, or at least one prior to the last. Tell me please when I was coming here some of my friends who have positive attitude towards Georgia and you said: "Listen, maybe the government not the population got anti-Russian paranoia?" Multiple spy-scandals, (we spoke some about this issue, right?) Last occasion. Pardon me please, I know what does the personal photographer mean, I know how close this person is, I had worked with five Presidents in Russia. Maybe this is super jealousy? Because there is a Northern neighbor that was involved in war recently?

M. Saakashvili: I think no one has any doubts that we are the number one target for huge state that are managed by "Gebists". I have heard many times that Putin (from him personally) plans intelligence operations himself, how well he know the surnames of operational stuff. For example I remember how he called me regarding Batumi and listed the exact names, streets, cross-roads and so on and he listed the names of operational stuff that were working in that area specifically. He gets the huge pleasure by planning it all and this is why if some country presents so to say a field for such games - it is of course us. This is why I am not glad at all that we have hundreds and thousands of staff that are all day long occupied to organize it all instead of controlling corruption, for example. Just because we don't have indeterminate resources - there are specific persons, who have to fight with corruption, or be in charge of counter intelligence or be occupied with some other activities like fighting terrorism. We have many other challenges. Sure these games are going on and there is no paranoia. There is a specific...

A. Venediktov: For example you personally were fascinated with jealousy?

M. Saakashvili: Personally I am a person who always believes in everyone.

A. Venediktov: I somehow cannot recall such politicians.

M. Saakashvili: There is nothing worse than having doubts about someone always - I am not speaking about the politicians only, because it is self-destruction for any human being or character. You permanently think about it. This is why it is not good because of purely pragmatic reasons. Second - specific people are placed on records - for specific hearings, specific conversations, for specific money transfers, on the bases of specific activities. Unfortunately it all happens and by the way I think it happens very rarely in Georgia than it could possible be. In reality I am satisfied, because envisaging that work that we are carrying out is minimum.

First of all we aren't spying on any of our employees - it is true. If someone is caught, because they were depicted by special services for their activities in a indirect way, because there are some specific directions that they are working for. But no one is listening to our staff and I a saying this with full responsibility. If we do so then I will never be sure if they are not listening to me either. This is why nobody listens to anyone and no one watches anyone. But we know that works are being carried out specifically in this direction. Unfortunately it happens so when someone is appears in the field of vision. It is possible that someone was caught because of money, or because of some personal problems or someone is simply upset. But I want to repeat that compare to what type of resources are spent this is only a mouse found in a mountain. I am absolutely calm in this field. Georgia is not at all paranoiac country. We have simple border crossing regime for Russian citizens, visa free regime for Caucasians. Airports are open; seaports are open. For example here in Batumi ship was leaving for Sochi every day and used to bring thousands of tourist from there last year - I don't have information how it is this year. I am only glad because of it. We were skiing side-by-side to Russians on our skiing resorts. We have no complex o relations. But to say honestly sure there is some disconnection. Russian orbit is connected to us by corruption, ineffectiveness, brutality and sure by occupation of our lands until now. All of this is real and it is not paranoia, it is reality that happens in Russia. This is why I would breathe freely if it didn't happen in Russia, but...

A. Venediktov: Do you think they approach you so close as personal photographer?

M. Saakashvili: I think that... I am not familiar with the details of this case. First of all.

A. Venediktov: But they wouldn't be able to arrest him without you.

M. Saakashvili: I found out about the arrest half an hour before that happened. The case was ready before that. And it has to be disclosed. First of all - they can prepare a case without my involvement and it is right; because they are preparing cases on my personal photographer and on my close relatives as well. Many of my relatives were under the investigation and they even had some problems. I only welcome it all - everyone knows my attitude: I have no limitations. If my son is involved in it - they can take care of him. But this is not paranoia - this is simply the Rule of Law and universal equality. This is what we created in Georgia - meritocracy, people are achieving their results by their own talents only, they pass exams for the enlistment in universities, they form their own careers. Enlistment is based on open competition in every educational installation and all tenders are electronic - meritocracy is number one. Second is equality in front of law - no matter if you are a President, cousin, uncle and so on, personal photographer - all are equal and this is very strong system, it has its own weakness because it is available - someone could manipulate with it. But the advantage is rather high than these negative sides. As far as my personal photographer is concerned, I was very upset and I am still very, very upset. But my personal feelings are secondary here; nothing personal, just business as usual.

A. Venediktov: The last question. You had touched one issue - Sochi. A question appears - would Georgian delegation participate in Sochi Olympic Games?

M. Saakashvili: It is up to Olympic committee to decide, indeed.

A. Venediktov: But what is your belief? I mean yours?

M. Saakashvili: I have certain complicated feelings in regards of this city.

A. Venediktov: Tell us please...

M. Saakashvili: First of all because my homeland starts right after Sochi. As Putin told us once - " I often visit Sochi - Georgia is only in 2 km from there". But for me it is not Georgia only, this is a place where my family comes from, a place from where many pleasant people were excelled and they cannot return there. We are speaking about 500 thousand persons. I know many of them personally, I am very sorry that there is a territory in XXI century where people are not let in because of their ethnic origins and political views. Why not only because of ethnic origins? Because half of Abkhazians are expelled as well - if someone doesn't recognize them they aren't letting them to cross a line on the beach. Sure this is an absolutely horrifying situation. It is not a territorial issue for me - this is a purely human factor, how it is possible to act like this in our times. This is why I have complicated attitude because of purely emotional side. And, second what I think is that many investments are being laid in Sochi now. We had 6 billion dollar investment in Batumi in last 6 years. We calculated and it is twice as much in Sochi. But that is state money and here we have 90% private sector money. This is a good competition, what can private money do even 3 times less. Lets see where will Batumi stand in 2014 and where will Sochi be. I wish success to every resident of Sochi. But sure my heart beats for my own country and own city.

A. Venediktov: Thank you very much, the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili.

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