The President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili held press conference about situation in South Ossethia


Hello everybody,

I would like to update you on dramatic situation that we have. Before starting the briefing I would like to mention that I'm coming from the rally, the biggest rally I've ever seen in Georgian capital where people got together despite the consistent rumors that Tbilisi was going to be bombed today and some places in the capital were in hit today, to express the outrage and unity and to express their hope for peace. But I have to update you on the situation and I've been comparing very extensively the statements by Russian President Medvedev and situation on the ground and there are very worrying developments since the last few hours and days.

First of all the main center of fighting - they made the most extensive fighting took place yesterday far away from South Ossetia, in Abkhazia. South Ossetia is here, Abkhazia is here (pointing on the map). We didn't have any troops of Georgian there except the local police; we had the peaceful population in upper Kodori George - in upper Abkhazia. That was the only place after ethnic cleansing, there were Georgian population, which was controlled by the central Georgian government and there was mix of ethnic Georgian and other population.

Apparently we did the framework of well prepared plan, several hundred pieces of Russian equipment, Russian airborne troops, commanded by head of airborne troops of Russia, with the rank of general, landed there and expelled and certainly killed part of the population; whole population from that place is gone. This is classical case of ethnic cleansing. I have to mention that this is the place where for the last several years we built lots of good things - we built schools, we built hospitals, we had lots of journalist there to see what peace brings as development, we even built ski resort and ski school for children, for kinds, now it is all gone - the ski resort was bombed first. And they were also using vacuum bombs here very extensively that we know from our policemen.

The other development is around South Ossetia. As you know the enclaves of South Ossetia previously controlled by the Georgian government and by local administration headed by ethnic Ossetian Dimitri Sanakoev, has been ethnically cleansed by intruding Russian troops and I get very worrying reports, some of them look to be unfortunately credible, of point black execution, on sight killings and some people are taken in some kind of camps or some internal places in Kurta and Vladikavkaz. I also hear reports, after Georgian troops has left the town of Tskhinvali on my orders, of continuous 48 hours carpet bombardments of town of Tskhinvali and this is certainly, I mean they are turning Tskhinvali in Grozny 2 and I demand immediate UN access to see what is going on there and what happened to the people, because we've also heard about execution there.

The other worrying development is that the Russian troops have been going all around Georgia. If in the first days they've only been hitting tanks or pretended to hit military objects, right now they are predominantly focused on civilians. Today a Dutch journalist was killed with a cluster bomb in Gori, at least as the report says, there where witnesses, as foreign journalists said to us it was a cluster bomb. I deeply regret this loss of life, as well as two journalists specifically targeted in Tskhinvali; after our troops left the town they went in and they were also killed in Tskhinvali. I saw on television the BBC journalist was targeted by bomb two days ago by the plane very deliberately; looks like this plane has either instruction or some special desire to go not only after civilians but after journalists. Today the hospital of Gori, that everybody knew was purely concentrated on just treating the wounded of this conflict, was hit by Russian tactical weapon and there are also some reports of casualties there.

Another worrying development - they again hit the main oil pipeline going from Georgia. It was very extensive and very deliberate attack; the pipeline is still functional, but is it third day in consecutive they are hitting this pipeline. It tells you something about real purpose of this operation.

We also saw what they are doing basically, they are going after police stations all around Georgia. They go around to disarm the police and they hit the police stations from the air, hit the policemen. They know very well that Georgian police is lightly armed and it's not the part of military operations. But what it really gives, in terms of results, is that if you no longer have police in the area, and authorities are basically under occupation, you get disorder, you get marauding, you get all kind of that things. And It get breakdown of administration, law and order. And apparently that is very deliberate tactic to undermine the whole state structure of the country, to cripple it, because they've been hitting them on the main roads, when they were regulating the traffic, they've been hitting them near police stations, they've been hitting them inside towns.

As you know today we have six European Presidents coming including President Sarkozy of France. We immediately agreed to cease-fire proposed by France, Russia has been maneuvering and I think the main reason why they have been maneuvering is that they have to accomplish all other tasks like cleaning the Upper Abkhazia, like go around the targets all around the country.

So, that's where we are at this stage. Now we heard that they hold the fighting but as I told you, after this announcement there where number of killings reported and bombing sites continued. This time we talk about purely civilian targets, because at this moment there are no militaries left there. But we have to take some measures in order to reestablish law and order and certainly reestablish peace and allow people to start going back, because we'll have humanitarian disaster in other ways.

Thank you, please.

Journalist (Reuters News Agency): Mr. President as you know Russian President made a statement that Russia had stopped military operation in Georgia, although many outlets, objects, civilian objects, as well as villages had been bombed since that. How realistic you think is peace and negotiations over peace?

Mikheil Saakashvili:

That I noticed very well is that Russian President or at least Prime-Minister Putin has very direct and very good control of their military. I don't believe that anybody of the military would ever dare to make any military anything without their leadership knowing about that. You know, they were so swift in all their actions here in Georgia, they were so coordinated that certainly there is good level of organization in leadership there. So, I don't know what political motives are behind it. I think political motive is very clear - to demonstrate to the world that they couldn't care less about world reaction, to continue to cripple the country; they've clearly articulated the regime change objective. This is not about Presidency of Georgia or something; this is about killing the freedom and the independence of this country and scaring all the others surrounding us. Well, I think, our message to them is, no matter what they do, no matter how much they bomb us, no matter how they want to cripple us and undermine us, we aren't going to give up our freedom and Georgia will never surrender.

Journalist (Reuters News Agency): And one more. You've mentioned just half an hour ago at the rally that Georgia is ready to leave the CIS. Is that a final decision?

Mikheil SaakaSvili:

Yes, we took it in consultation with parliamentary factions. We have certainly to leave CIS. CIS totally failed as international organization. It's some kind of post-Soviet thing, but that basically could not do anything to prevent this tragedy from happening and you know, but leaving CIS we are saying final adios to the Soviet Union. Those people who are bombing us, they want to restore the Soviet Union. President Putin announced two years ago that demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. Well, I believe it was a very fortunate act and we should never go back to the Soviet Union. I think people in Georgia today, with this mass showing of unity, clearly demonstrated that they don't want to go to the past in any circumstances.

Journalist (Bloomberg News): Mr. Saakashvili can you tell us, if this is not over yet, then can you give us an estimate what damage it is going to cost to, first of all, Georgia's economy and that is most important in military, since so much money has been invested as well as in economy, so in military.

Mixeil SaakaSvili:

Well, I think this is not about military anymore and this is even not about economy. This is about Georgian people. Right now we need to stop killing of civilians and shelling of the villages. This terror campaign specifically targets the civilians, and not only from the air. As I told you, I have very warring reports of ethnic cleansing taking place. This is very essential. And the other thing is that we'll certainly restore economy of Georgia, I'm sure Georgia will develop fast. Georgia has been the fastest growing economy in this part of the world. We had the one of the lowest corruption records in Europe, we had one of the top business climates in the world according to the World Bank, we had the fastest growing foreign direct investment in the region. Of course all of this is the worst publicity you can get all of things I've just talked about, but we will get it back. Once Georgia gets to normal, it still will be save country. You now during all these days we demonstrated that government functions - the lights were on, the cell phones communication were more or less OK, the police acted as normal until they started to deliberately target the policemen, hospitals worked well, economy worked well, the currency was stable, the money supplies was tight but it was OK in terms of economy. So, if economy can sustain this kind of massive attacks for a few days without shaking, without major turbulences, it shows we really have gone long way to more developed infrastructure. Well, it will take some time; we hope for help from different international organizations - The World Bank, IBRD, our friendly governments, but primarily we believe that free enterprise in situation of renewed stability it comes back to Georgia will demonstrate the benefits of free society towards what we had before.

Journalist (Bloomberg News): In military, how many soldiers we lost?

There were losses among Georgian soldiers were much less I can say than loss among Russian servicemen, but, of course, these is not comparable. But the main losses we had, what we heard from all sides, are among civilians. I don't want to speculate about Georgian military, I think that we preserved the army; it didn't run away, it didn't go home with weapons in their hands as it usually used to happen in previous times in our history. It's just relocated, but it's functional, it's disciplined and it willing to continue resist provided if attacks to be continued, but however we want to hold yet, we want to regain peace, it's not our interest to continue hostility, because lots of people are suffering, it's already getting to level of absolute insanity.

Press Office
of the President of Georgia