|“It is time for the West to recognise the Russian occupation”|
|June 22, 2011|
By Piotr Smolar
Georgia continues believing in its special destiny. It is the only country of the ex Soviet sphere which calls for membership in NATO and the European Union, and pursues radical reforms to that end. Yet Tbilisi is wary of being neglected by its Western partners, who are absorbed by the “reset” of their relationship with Moscow.
Le Monde met with Giorgi Baramidze, Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister and State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration, during his visit to Paris on June 20. This interview was held a day before Vladimir Putin’s own visit to France.
Is the agreement on the sale by France of two Mistral ships to Russia a profound disappointment for Georgia?
Giorgi Baramidze – We respect France’s decision. France is a great friend of Georgia. But we must be rational. This is a political, not a military, deal. It is clear that Russia does not need the Mistral. It is not equipment designed to defend oneself, but to attack. Against whom does Russia expect to use it? Clearly not against a NATO member. France would never have accepted the sale if this were the case.
In the Black Sea region, Ukraine and Georgia are targets. Should Russia want to invade Georgia, it would not need the Mistral. So whom? North Korea? South Korea? Japan? I highly doubt it. Russia is seeking to engage with France bilaterally, as it does with Germany. Russia’s stratagem consists of using its resources to be well regarded by certain members of NATO and the European Union, thereby provoking lively debates on its case.
What is your analysis of the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, three years after the August 2008 war against Russia, following which the two separatist regions proclaimed their independence?
These are proxy regimes. Their leaders have less power than some regional governors within Russia. It is political theatre. It is time for the West to recognise, after three years, the failure of the strategy consisting of not calling the occupation by its name. Not only is Russia not withdrawing from these territories and does not allow European observers to work within them, but it has also deployed Tochka U missiles in South Ossetia and Smerch rocket launchers in Abkhazia. The Russians do not even conceal it and are very cynical. They are increasingly contemptuous of the 2008 ceasefire agreement.
The time has come to increase the pressure put on Russia, even if Western States want to develop ties of friendship with it. We are not seeking to push anyone towards confrontation, but simply for facts to be recognised: ethnic cleansing and occupation. Occupation is useful to Russia, as they would like Georgia in its entirety for the interests of Gazprom, and for Putin, because he does not want a neighbouring country joining the West through reforms.
Russia’s message to the West is simple: what is yours is yours, but what is mine is mine. NATO and EU States are out of reach. However, Russia considers that its other neighbouring countries form an exclusive sphere of influence. Following this vision, Georgia, like Ukraine, has a key role to play. We are trying to cross a dangerous river, but we are still in the middle and have not reached the other shore yet. Russia feels that we are vulnerable and is therefore maintaining its attempts to bring us back. Joining NATO will change everything for us. The Russians might be vicious, but they are not crazy.
Your government has claimed, in the last months, to have foiled several terrorist attacks orchestrated by Russia...
For a year and a half now, Russians have tried to carry out several terrorist attacks. Two explosions notably occurred near the American Embassy in Tbilisi and near the headquarters of an opposition Party. Other attempts failed, notably one against the NATO liaison office. Several ethnic Georgians, from the occupied territories, have been arrested. We have had confirmation, from the security services of NATO members, that the people orchestrating this campaign were GRU [Russian military intelligence] officers. We know the names, the financing networks. The only question that remains is how high the orders were given.
Georgian police has been criticised for “excessive use of force” after demonstrations by the opposition at the end of May...
The aim of these demonstrations was to provoke, in a few days, the downfall of President Saakashvili and of the Government. In order to carry out their “peaceful revolution,” opposition members had formed small groups of masked men, armed with metal bats.
We were not at all within the framework of a regular demonstration as described by law. They blocked the avenue in front of the public television’s headquarters and wanted to prevent a military parade planned to celebrate twenty years of Georgian independence from being held. Their aim was confrontation with the police.
Some policemen might have gone too far. An investigation will be carried out. But the action itself was just and legal and executed following plans used in all the European capitals. The two people who lost their lives, a protester and a policeman, were killed by Mrs Burjanadze’s motorcade [an ex-Speaker of Parliament, now an opposition figure].
The Russian elite is anxious because of the uncertainty surrounding the Medvedev-Putin duo’s future. Do you believe in a genuine opposition between the two men?
They are playing a ‘good cop, bad cop’ game. I respect the opinion of eminently intelligent people who believe there exists a true, essential disagreement between the two. This opinion makes me think.
However my knowledge of Russia and my intuition lead me not to make it my own. If such a disagreement did exist, why could President Medvedev not fire Putin? Especially as we know that in Russia you can lose half of your popularity in the day following your loss of power.
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