Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and that Georgia should keep this in mind when contacting those republics. When asking Putin about Russia’s role in the settlement of this conflict, a Georgian journalist said: “I would like to make it clear that even though Russia has recognized those two territories of Georgia and has deployed troops there, the conflict remains unsettled.”
“The question here – just as in the case of the south-east of Ukraine – is that it is necessary to come to terms with the people living in those territories. Once I told Mikheil Nikolayevich Saakashvili, who is on the run now... By the way, we have nothing to do with this – for one can hardly suspect that it is on our initiative that the current Georgian authorities are chasing him all over the world as they would chase a lice-ridden man all over the bathroom – and, as far as I know, they are even denying him a working visa to the United States... Well, once I kept telling him, ‘Mikheil Nikolayevich, don’t do this, don’t start military actions.’ He said, ‘Of course, I won’t’ and started. The result is known,” Putin said.
The Russian president said that he shares the pain of Georgia and its people. “But as you all perfectly know, in 1919 Georgia also faced hard times, when after the collapse of the Russian Empire it proclaimed itself as an independent state, while Abkhazia said that it wanted to stay within Russia. And everything was the same: the same punitive operation, the same combat actions. And this all is still remembered. It was not our scenario. Today, everybody keeps accusing us of the whole bag of tricks. They say we are provoking something. But we are not. Simply, things here are the way they are. So, they [the Georgians] need to come to terms with those people. And we are ready to help them in the matter. But when they ignored our warnings and the military action started, yes, we recognized the independence of those republics. This is the reality,” Putin said.
He was unable to say what can be done in this situation. “It is a very hard situation. But for the beginning, at least, the sides should try to establish direct contacts, some political dialogue. If they manage to do this, we will help them in this process. But I can’t say now what all this will end in,” Putin said.
The Russian president added that Russia has few contacts inside Georgia. “We have almost no contacts. We see that the internal political struggle in Georgia is well underway there. What they once asked us was to liberalize the deliveries of Georgian goods to the Russian market, we did it. We did it in exchange for their consent not to hinder our accession to the World Trade Organization. It was a very good gesture on the part of the Georgian authorities, and we replied to it by opening our market,” Putin said.
He said that Russia is ready to move in this direction. “And if the Georgian authorities deem it possible, we will be glad to welcome any of the Georgian leaders – be it the president or the premier – in Moscow,” the Russian president said.
When asked to comment on Putin’s statement, President of South Ossetia Leonid Tibilov said that normal relations between South Ossetia and Georgia are possible only as between two independent neighboring states on an egalitarian basis.
“The Georgian-Ossetian conflict started in the late 1980s and ended in August 2008, when Georgia unleashed a war against South Ossetia. It was then that Russia helped the South Ossetian people to rebuff the aggressor and recognized the independence of the South Ossetian Republic. Since then we can have normal relations only as equal neighboring states,” Tibilov said.
He noted that Putin was right when stressing the need for a direct dialogue. “For many years already Russia has done all it could to keep peace in the South Caucasus and to prevent the recurrence of the Ossetian genocide committed by Georgia in 1920. The Georgians chose a different way. As a result, they faced a different reality and must respect it now. South Ossetia is an independent state, and it is time for them in Georgia to comprehend this,” Tibilov said.
The first thing Georgia must do, according to the South Ossetian president, is to stop thinking about a new aggression, to plead guilty for the Ossetian genocide and to sign a legal undertaking not to use force.
The second step must be recognition of South Ossetia as a state. “These simple steps will pave the way for a dialogue. But what we see is Georgia’s attempts to evade the Geneva talks on security guarantees. Unfortunately, Georgia prefers the ideals of Gamsakhurdia and Saakashvili to good sense,” Tibilov said.
To remind, after the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia in 2008 and the subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia, Georgia severed its diplomatic relations with Russia. The dialogue of Georgia, from the one side, and Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, from the other, is being conducted in the framework of international security and stability talks with the mediation of the US, the EU, the UN and the OSCE.