Mikheil Saakashvili: It’s nice to be back in your studio.
Katty Kay: In 2008 a leading American politician at the time of the Georgian war with Russia, said we are all Georgians. Is that the reception you still get in Washington today?
Mikheil Saakshvili: It was an amazingly good reception. I’ve been to the Oval Office before several times during the previous administrations, but I have to say that this time, our relations have been elevated to a new level. This time, there were very concrete contents from it, because I came out with two messages; two important ones, but there are many others, equally as significant. The fact that President Obama spoke about the prospect of free trade agreement between Georgia and the United States is a key breakthrough and elevating the high level of commission on the economy that would be created outright. And second, elevating our defense security cooperation, mainly focused on Georgia’s self-defense. And certainly he further expressed his support for Georgia’s NATO aspirations as well as strong support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. This is very important, because there have been many attempts to undermine it.
Katty Kay: Let me ask about those NATO aspirations. You have a thousand forces at the moment fighting alongside the coalition in Afghanistan. You must be one of the only countries, in the coalition that is planning to increase the number of your forces within Afghanistan. Is that with the view to your NATO membership in mind?
Mikheil Saakashvili: Actually we are adding one more battalion; 1700 people will head there and per capita we will be the second largest contributor after the United States.
Katty Kay: What is Georgia’s interest in sending more troops in Afghanistan?
Mikheil Saakashvili: Well, first of all, we are very close to that region. So what happens in Afghanistan really impacts the whole thing in Georgia. Georgia is culturally and plus politically a very European country. And geographically the area holds a geopolitical turmoil. And it certainly impacts us on the other hand. I think it’s also our partnership with the United States that really matters as well as an upgrade of our military forces. They are good and these are not my words, I’ve spoken to number of commanders from the US, who are commanding them. They are all highly complementary about Georgian troops. We’ve suffered casualties, dozens of people injured and some even killed.
Katty Kay: Let’s talk about your own acute security concerns, because I think most Americans for example, when they think about Georgia today, the one thing that they will think about is the war that you had with Russia back in 2008. We now have Russia’s politics again in the spot light. It looks like Mr. Putin will be Russia’s next President. How does that make Georgians feel?
Mikheil Saakashvili: Indeed, 20 percent of our territory is still under Russian military occupation. That’s what this war is called by the US administration as well as the European Parliament and European States and many other countries in the world. We have half a million refugees that can’t go back to this area, so this place is basically empty of our population. It has very little of the pre-war population that lived there. These are very strong burdens on us. We have been seeing quite some menaces from Moscow. Indeed there was a Russian military drill, which basically focused on some further aggressive steps toward Georgia that they’ve just organized.
Katty Kay: So you mean that the next President Putin will make you feel more nervous or less nervous?
Mikheil Saakashvili: I think what has also changed after the war is that Georgia has had strong economic rebound in comparative terms with the region and very often even Russian opposition figures and not only; also lot’s of figures around the region cite Georgia as an example of not only democratic transformation but also economic; fighting corruption and fighting crime. President Obama indeed said that Georgia is a model for the region. Quite a compliment from a US President; even he took notice of that.