The President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili appeared before the Temporary Investigation Commission of the Parliament of Georgia
Paata Davitaia - Head of the Temporary Investigation Commission of the Parliament of Georgia:
Welcome everybody, welcome Mr. President.
I would like to thank you for coming. As it is known, the Temporary Investigation Commission is established by the Parliament's Decree, which investigates events of August. This Commission's mandate makes no provision for calling on the President. You expressed a wish to come to us yourself. On the assumption of this, are you ready or not to cooperate with the Commission and provide us with an information within limits of your competence?
President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili:
Of course, Mr. Davitaia. I am ready to fully cooperate with the Parliamentary Commission, I am ready to answer the questions you have and questions that have Georgian and world public regarding this war.
Thanks a lot, Mr. President. The manner of the work is as follows - we will address several questions to you and you will respond. We will continue our work in this mode.
As it is known, the open aggression against Georgia didn't start in August; the August events had certain preconditions. A lot of pointed questions regarding these issues have been accumulated in the public. On the assumption of this, I would like to ask you: Why Georgia could not avoid this conflict, that is, not to get into trap of provocation? Was Georgia using diplomatic activeness in order to avoid the escalation of the conflict and did Georgia do everything in this regard? As it is known, you met with President Putin in February, and lately with President Medvedev in Moscow and Astana; did you have an impression after these meetings, that Russia was preparing for military aggression, which was carried out in August? Please, answer these questions and lately the members of the Commission will put additional questions.
Mr. Davitaia, I have put down your questions. With the permission of the members of the Commission, first I will make statement and after I will answer your questions.
First of all I would like to welcome the establishment of this Commission. This is very clear confirmation and demonstration of the fact, that Georgia continues its way toward democratization; the events, that are taking place in the Parliament during the last weeks, is truly historic process and I have honor to be part of this historic process.
We all together with our friends were creating the history of the Georgian parliamentarism. We all together were building these institutions. After adoption of a new Constitution, except yearly address to the Parliament, the President never went officially to the Parliament before.
Here are presented the majority members of the Parliament, but the head of the Commission is representative of the opposition, as well as some other members of the Commission are from the opposition parties.
I would like to recall that a year before the politicians presented here were on different sides - in and outside of the building of the Parliament. We were divided by almost insuperable abyss; still nowadays we have seriously different opinions, but the fact, that we managed to gather in one room, in one building and to answer all questions, to conduct debates, to agree or not to agree and to abruptly critically approach to each other, but to do all these in the parliamentary and institution frames of Georgia - is a big step taken forward.
I would like to remind those foreigners, who wish to forget all that happened, however the President of Poland clearly reminded his all European colleagues of our situation.
The aggression was committed against Georgia that is still continuing - the occupation army is dislocated in several kilometers from Tbilisi, which openly and illegally is carrying out occupation of the territory of a sovereign state and openly threatens our citizens with use of the military force.
In this situation, in condition of such scale of aggression, a lot of countries would have temptation to toughen up political system, to "silence" the opposition and mass media, to control the economy, but we all have agreed to make more freedom of speech and press, more parliamentary discussions, to increase powers of the Parliament, to continue reforms of the legal system and, finally, to establish this Commission, that is unique in itself: this is our common, the most weak respond to these aggressive actions.
Our respond to this aggression is more openness, more democracy, more flexibility, in order to show to everybody, that our immunity is exactly in this openness.
The democratic system has also some weaknesses, but has such strengths, that our enemy will be really unable to use against us and our future. That's why we didn't avoid any questions; the members of the government were strictly instructed to answer all the questions.
I welcome the fact, that you invited all types of people, listened to all opinions, some of which coincide, but others not, heard plenty of truth, but also plenty of lies. I hope that your conclusion will be objective - this is most important.
There are a lot of questions not only in Georgia, but beyond its borders and as it seems, the main question, that troubles the international community, is following: Did Georgia conduct military actions in order to control those territories of Tskhinvali and South Ossetia, which we didn't control before?
You know that this became a central question of the debates; as a result of megabuck campaign, our enemy spends thousands of millions for if it cannot manage to "whiten" its role, than to "blacken" Georgia as much as possible or to create obscure colors, in order to make it impossible for one to make clear where is truth and where is lie.
For this purpose, they are conducting enormous information campaigns, bribing different persons, in order to openly utter a falsehood and it must be said, that this campaign resulted some outcomes in relation to concrete persons.
In reality, the above-mentioned question represents an attempt to drive attention from the main questions. However nor me, nor other members of the government have never said opposite on the question, "did Georgia conduct military actions in order to control those territories of Tskhinvali and South Ossetia, which we didn't control before?", I would like to announce - yes, we made decision to carry out military actions in Tskhinvali region to protect security of our motherland and our citizens.
This was hard decision, which would have been taken by any democratic government responsible before its country and nation. This decision was inevitable because of two main circumstances: first, it became know to us that hundreds of Russian tanks, heavy artillery and thousands of militaries were mobilized on the Georgian-Russian borders, near Roki Tunnel and we started receiving trustworthy, confirmed intelligence data, and you have seen this data, that they started movement and were crossing Georgian border.
This fact was lately approved by world media, the phone conversations are published, a lot of materials got from internet, open sources and also intelligence sources are examined. But I should mention that open sources are as trustworthy, as intelligence sources, and in some cases are more trustworthy.
Meanwhile, the Russian Federation itself didn't and was not able to deny the fact of intervention in Georgia. On August 6, before full scale intervention, our peacekeepers were killed, and that was continuation of the violence that was resorted from the begging of the month.
An intensified bombardment of the villages under our control was continuing on that night and during the next day. I want to underline, that these were not Georgian villages as they are characterizing, but these were mixed ethnic villages inhabited by Georgians and Ossetians (we were never dividing them).
These are villages that were controlled by Georgian authorities and we equally love all representatives of the ethnic groups, equally respect them, equally protecting them and this will be continued in the future.
The enemy's artillery was mainly dislocated in Tskhinvali near positions of the Russian peacekeepers. Commander of the peacekeeping forces General Kulakhmetov confirmed this fact himself.
In these circumstances the question that must be put is not "did Georgia conduct or not military actions in South Ossetia with main goal to destroy weapon emplacements, from which our villages were bombarded?", there is no need to put question in this regard, because there is nothing to be hidden - we really did it with this purpose. The question is "which democratic authority, responsible government will behave in other manner, when there was taking place annihilation of its own citizens of all ethnic groups at their houses by foreign country's aggressors and there was going conquest of the sovereign territory as a result of intervention of armed forces of the aggressive state.
It is frequently said that there is Georgia, Russia and territory of South Ossetia - nobody must forget, that this is not unpopulated zone, which doesn't belong to anybody. This is internationally recognized sovereign territory of Georgia and after independence the most part of this territory was controlled by the central government of Georgia.
So, we did not invade that territory as our opponents often say. It is impossible for a country to invade its own territory. Instead, we fought to push away the intervention.
We complied with all norms of international law, while fighting on our own soil, in our homeland, in order to defend our country and no Georgian soldier set a foot on foreign land.
Therefore, the main reason for evaluating legitimacy of Russia's action should not be whether democratically elected government of Georgia tried to protect its own citizens on its own soil. Instead it should be evaluated by answers to the following questions:
Was Georgia or Russia the side, which conduct factual annexation of a neighboring sovereign country?
Was Georgia or Russia the side, which withdrew from the agreement about reducing arms on Caucasus wing one year before? Georgia complied with the agreement, while Russia sharply increased military forces, equipment, and armored equipment in the Northern Caucasus. It is absolutely clear, that there was more equipment, than needed to conduct a military operation in Chechnya or other Republics of the Caucasus. It is absolutely clear why they withdrew from that agreement.
Which country crossed the border of a neighboring democracy with tanks and thousands of troops?
Which country organized series of deadly provocations during months and years?
Which country distributed passports to the population of a neighboring country, by violation of their and our constitution, in order to use it as a motive to justify intervention with intention to protect its own citizens?
Which country refused to participate in peace talks, which were organized by the European Union on July 24th and by OSCE on July 31st?
Which country refused a peace offer by Steinmeier , the foreign minister of Germany?
Who attempted to conceal its own well-planned intervention with false accusation, as if 2000 peaceful citizens were destroyed in Tskhinvali? Impartial observers of all international organizations denied this fact immediately, and later on Russia's official government denied it too.
Which country started military actions in order to protest and stop genocide?
Which country started and which country conducted ethnic cleansing of population of which country?
After the conflict stopped, which country refused to comply, even with the first part of the signed seize fire agreement, requiring to protect foreseen territories and to let the European observers monitor them?
These are the questions, which need to be answered.
The fact that the answers, which would benefit Russia do not exist, once again emphasizes how large and dangerous is the aggressor we and the rest of the world are dealing with.
I am ready to answer you, about our decisions and tactical reactions that had no alternatives.
I am ready to take questions from you, and I want to tell you that this was a hard decision for me.
Mr. Paata, now about your questions, concerning the meeting in February.
My last meeting with President Putin, in February (Davit Bakradze and Grigol Vashadze were also there) was very hard, because he clearly told us:
"We will have mutual relations with Georgia, we will open air traffic, and we may think about the issue of importing your wine, but about the issue of conflict regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia, I will not answer you. Instead, I will answer the west, United States and NATO on the issue of Kosovo. What we are going to do does not concern you and will not be done against you. It will be our reaction to them. "
This was an extremely cynical statement and we came out of that meeting very upset. We repeated all of the issues we had touched before: we are ready to review the disputed issues, because none of the issues are untouchable besides the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and that we are open to discuss any other issues. Apparently Russia had no desire to hear any of this. This was David Bakradze's first meeting with Putin and I asked him to share his impression. He said that he had a very heavy impression: he is threatening us with war- Bakradze said.
Our conclusions coincided, because I had the same impression.
After that you mentioned the meeting with President Medvedev in June. I visited him with high hopes, because we were dealing with the new President of Russia, which just like me, had graduated from faculty of law during the same period of time, and as it is known from transparent sources, had not served in the KGB. I considered all this as a positive thing in order to find common something in common with him. Medvedev claimed, that he liked modern music, modern lifestyle and that he was able to smile. In other words, he seemed like an open person and that is why I met him with pleasure. This meeting was a little better than I was used to from his side. We did not touch the details, because he said that he was ready to discuss all the issues during the next meeting, which he offered to organize in the nearest future while also expressing the desire to make our relations better. This meeting left us with positive emotions. Soon we wrote him a letter with bold statements (I will tell you about this later if you are interested). We waited for a reply impatiently and they sent it to Grigol Vashadze. He called and told me that the answer was disappointing.
After this, I met Medvedev in Kazakhstan, during the anniversary of Astana and I asked him about the destiny of our future meeting. I also had a telephone conversation with him before, but I did not get a clear answer on this. In Astana, Medvedev told me that it was not yet time to meet, and that time would not come until the situation between Russia and Georgia changed fundamentally. I answered him that a meeting would have a point anyway, because the situation could even get worse if the sides that already have strained relations do not talk. Unfortunately, he gave me a clear answer on the spot. I was left with the impression that he was reprimanded for his offers in the main decision-making center of Russia, and it is possible that the plan was different, but anyway, his rhetoric in Astana was very different from the one I heard during the meeting in June. By the way, during the informal meeting with Nazarbayev, he turned towards me and told me: I have never seen you in such a bad mood. Apparently I was unable to conceal my emotions.
This is all I can say about that meeting. Along with this, you are aware that many provocations, as well as judicial acts and specific military actions were conducted against us. Also there were bad comments about us in the media and in the statements of government officials.
In the end, I would like to tell you that my last attempt to contact President Medvedev was on the evening of August 6th. When the situation became tense I called President Medvedev, not somebody else. The answer of their foreign ministry, by which we usually contact them, was following: the situation is not ripe for the Presidents to speak, it is too early. Their answer only contained this. In next several days I repeatedly tried to contact Medvedev or Putin, but my attempts were unsuccessful. By the way, the initiative came from their side. They conveyed this by various diplomatic ways, that we should call, but they never answered. I encountered the same thing later, many times - they did not connect President Sarkozy, which was standing right in front of me, with President Medvedev. It appears that, this is part of their diplomatic game, some Mongolian-Byzantine game, in which they kept bureaucratic elements.
Therefore, I cannot avoid asking you: do you think that your personal aggression against Russia, which was often seen in your rhetoric, has made regulation of Russian-Georgian relations impossible? For example: you called President Putin "LiliPutin" [meaning "Dwarf Putin" in Georgian] could this have caused the moments of aggression?
Mr. Paata. I don't even want to repeat it. Have you heard the word you just mentioned from me personally? Did you hear this anywhere?
We know from the society, that you addressed the Russian President this way...
Many things can spread in the society, but I want to note that I did not under any circumstances, neither during personal meetings, during meetings with other leaders or ordinary citizens, nor publically I have insulted him in this or any other way. I did not use any rude statements against any Russian leader. I always talked about them with respect. This was the principle of my actions, not only before war, but after it as well. Of course I had a reason to become bitter. You know what kind of terminology Russian leaders used to describe us while meeting with President Sarkozy. I am a character in many "interesting" movies, which they filmed and widely covered in media. In spite of this, first, we have never used bad terms. Second, I did not do this, because I love any of them, or otherwise, I have a different attitude towards them, but because this is a personal relationship. This is a relationship between countries. We were obligated to sort out this relationship despite all the sympathies antipathies. Moreover, my mood and intention deep inside were about liking Putin when we first arrived in Moscow, in 2004, liking him not as an individual, but rather as a President of a partner country. My instinct whispered that I had established a relationship based on good will, and trust. I have achieved this with many leaders in the world. You are aware that I have friendly and familiar relationships with many European leaders, President Bush and the leaders of other neighboring countries, but we try not to let ourselves into too much familiarity. In case of Russia it was different, because of no desire from their side based on the fact that they did not think of us as equal partners and players. They thought that we were part of a broad conspiracy against them and as it appears, we were unable to form such a relationship with them. In spite of this, widespread myths about our relationship becoming tense, because of our personal differences, are told by people that do not see the fundamental problem of this relationship. I would like to remind you, that if Russia's current leadership ever hated anybody more than they hate me, it was my predecessor, President Eduard Shevardnadze. During formal meetings, they addressed him with such terms that would not even cross our mind and touch our tongue. It was during Shevardnadze's time, when they first bombed Georgia and first cut off gas. This happened as soon as Putin was temporarily appointed as acting President. President Clinton's last action was a phone conversation with his Russian colleague, to ask him to restore natural gas flow to Georgia. They did this to Georgia of Shevardnadze's time. Therefore, our relationship became tense in the past and I think this is a fundamental difference between us. Not a personal incompatibility.
Mr. President, you talked to us about the existing situation, meetings with Putin and Medvedev; you have mentioned that you were upset, when you realized that serious provocation was being planned against Georgia. Did you or did you not conduct negotiations with US administration, which is one of our major allies? Did you or did you not, as it appears, receive a "green light" on starting war actions from the US administration? Where were the red lines drawn for us and for our major partner, The United States? Today, such an impression is formed and many in the society think that there is a group, which negotiates the "green lights."
I do not know where the term "green light" came from.
We never asked anybody to turn on a "green light" for us.
We never saw a "green light" with our eyes and nobody had a desire to do so.
The talk is very specific.
We always told our friends that Russia was pushing extremely aggressive politics, which did not fit in the frame of ordinary and classical provocations.
Provocations can vary: you may make a statement, capture somebody, slip something to somebody, but when we are talking about bombing our country, building basis on our sovereign territory, legalization, a regime that was brought about after ethnic cleansing by seizing property of hundreds of thousands of our citizens, which is an aggressive and a specific judicial act, it is not a provocation any more.
This is a specific action with the intention to annex.
We were telling our friends in Europe and America that if startling of people, pushing thousands of them away from their homes, explosions and attacks started, it would be equal to a stage of active confrontation with our large neighbor.
We were asking everybody - talk to Russia so we can avoid all this.
After the summer events it became clear to our partners. That is why Solana, Steinmeier, and Condoleezza Rice visited us.
We were telling them: the situation is becoming tense and we need to avoid this.
The intervention was belated. So belated, that we were unable to avoid this conflict.
Unfortunately, disregard of many events by some of our partners may have sent a wrong signal to the aggressive part of the Russian leadership. This was also one of the factors that later occurred in Georgia.
The war in Georgia did not start in August. With broader understanding the war has started years ago. But in August Russia decided to put the war in active phase and to finish with this problem.
Everything that was happening then [during years] did not become the matter of adequate reaction, as we would wish.
Our diplomats, you - parliamentarians and all of you did impossible job to prevent a large scale conflict.
This was our short-term goal, while our long-term goal was to peacefully restore our territorial integrity with the support of the international community, or at least within the conditions of favorable neutrality.
Mr. President, you have mentioned the visit of Ms. Condoleeza Rice. You have mentioned some things that Russians were carrying out or were planning to carry out.
You said that the response on this [intervention] by any democratic government would be adequate. Did you receive any direct warnings from Ms. Rice that Georgia should not have to get into trap of these provocations?
We were always warning Americans that provocations were intensifying; the response of Americans was the following: you should not have to be trapped in these provocations. The fundamental principle of our American and European partners was based upon one strategic calculation (that has been changed since August) that Russia, despite its threats, aggressions and provocations was not ready for the large-scale intervention in another nation.
In reality, Russia fulfilled such a large-scale intervention in 1979 in Afghanistan, before that in Czechoslovakia (1968) and in Hungary (1956). Nobody could believe that Russia was ready to perform same type of intervention as the Soviet Union did in Hungary and Afghanistan.
This was a main disagreement. Everything that was happening in Georgia trustworthily looked like the preparation for the military operation. Many of us, including myself did not fully believe that they would in reality step over the red line and make reckless actions.
I confess that our response could be late. It was hard to fully believe what was happening, until we had checked for 500 times and saw that something incredible was happening.
Even today for many in Europe and America it is hard to believe that they [Russians] really made this step first.
After the Russian aggression, the world order has fundamentally changed.
We all repeat - cold war is impossible. But what Russia did was a hot manifestation of the cold war.
We used to repeat that boarders are unflagging.
For the first time after the WWII the big European state had an attempt to forcefully change borders of its neighbor.
Such an attempt is unprecedented after the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
And for this very reason I do not fully blame our partners.
You have mentioned fundamental principles of our Western partners, which was a result that they did not believe the possible intervention. This commission listened to the Minister of Defense, Minister of Internal Affairs, National Security Advisor, which have presented the whole chain of Russian activities [prior to the war]; the next logical step would be intervention. Every official including yourself say that you had optimism that Russia would not undertake such a large-scale intervention. On 7th of August your visit [to China] was postponed. Didn't you have extra optimism on the reality that we had? Because on 29th of July our villages were shelled. What type of analytical group was informing you that there was a chance that this intervention would not take place?
When you were receiving information [about Russia's actions], why did not you terminate mandate of the Russian peacekeeping forces, which was a base for their operation? And second question: what was the purpose of your one week visit to Italy on 21st of July?
I want to partially share this critique and say again what I have said before. Possibly deep in the heart we also did not believe that Russia would do this. Do not blame me, because this was unbelievable also for the U.S. leadership and other leaders with whom I had contacts on 7th of August.
We were extra careful.
These provocations started some years ago. Provocations entailed the following cycle: there was an escalation of situation, then we would receive fire and our citizens would get killed; then we would return fire and the situation would calm down.
In the beginning of June Mr. Sanakoyev [head of legitimate administration in South Ossetia] was attacked; we strengthened security measures and after that the provocation did not take place for a long time.
When situation escalated in the beginning of August, we said that this could be another provocation; we considered important to strengthen our forces, but we thought that the situation would necessarily calm down.
I was on vacation for one week, but returned in five days because the situation got strained. I came back; we strengthened our posts.
Then I was due to Beijing. We were not going for amusement there; but there were planned meetings with the world leaders.
I tried to talk with Medvedev but received a negative response.
With the visit in Beijing we would have a unique chance to see Putin, Bush, Sarkozi.
My first plan to depart in the morning to catch a reception in Beijing failed, because when we thought that the situation calmed down, they opened fire towards villages. Then we postponed the visit and decided to catch opening ceremony. Then we saw that the things were not perfect. Then arrived Popov but he did not talk to us. I had to make an option: to take off, and in this case I would not be able to respond during the several hours; or to stay in Georgia. The head of my protocol service Mr. Zurab Darchiashvili called me and told me that if I would not fly at 7 o'clock, I would not be able to land at the Beijing airport due to a big line of planes. I did not risk and decided to stay in Georgia.
Georgia many times appeared in a critical situation. I want to remind you that we had serious tensions due to assault on Mr. Sanakoyev.
We had tensions in April and May, particularly after Putin's decree on bringing troops in Abkhazia; we had several attacks on Kodori Gorge, attack on village Tsitelubani; every time we were working in the regime of provocations. We got used to these provocations; this all became the part of our life so much that if during the initial cases we would react very strictly, later it became the part of routine. This is the method of the adversary - to make you inert.
For these provocations Georgia could not suspend existence, nor its diplomatic activeness.
Visit to Beijing would be the significant part of diplomatic activeness.
This clearly indicates the fact that Russians selected timing ideally.
We have to consider several factors for which Russia needed to start the war in August.
This was a political calendar.
After Bucharest they expected that in December Georgia could advance on its way to NATO integration.
Head of the Russian General Staff clearly said that they would use all methods to prevent Georgia's integration into NATO.
The Head of General Staff is not a director of circus. It is clear to everybody what methods he is talking about.
If Russia wanted to do something before December it was necessary to use summer, because in the end of September there is already snow in the Caucasus. If you want to conduct military activities you have to use August-September period.
In August the level of rivers are at their lowest and for Abkhazia this is an important factor in terms of bringing in tanks. In this period they also fixed railway in Abkhazia.
August is also a best time for their military planes.
Their planes do not have good night vision and that is why they were bombing us with strategic bombers; Other planes like "SU-25," "SU-27" and "MIG-29" do not have good vision at nights and cloudy weather. Therefore, if they were planning any kind of military activities in May, when we had maximally escalated situation, they could not succeed, since during the entire month we had rain.
This is only a speculation. I do not know if they had any plans in May or not, but then we also were at the edge of conflict.
In August the weather was ideal for military operations.
I want to remind you that Russia's past provocations not only in Georgia but also in Chechnya were also planned and implemented in August.
In Chechnya two wars were started in August and this fact should be particularly emphasized. In 1992 provocation in Abkhazia started in August and in 2004 after several months of tensions the real military actions started in August.
And this happened after military instructors entered from Russia, who brought in weapons and ordered the start of fighting.
Secondly, August was a good time because in this month everyone thinks about pleasure. You have mentioned that I was on vacation together with my family. Not only me, but all leaders of the world are on vacation. For example, when I started to look for the people, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was outside of Germany, German Foreign Minister Shteinmeyer was in Sardinia and his telephone was off. I could talk to General Secretary of NATO, but he also was not in Brussels and I could not openly talk to him, since everyone who is not lazy listens to open talks. And we all know well who is not lazy.
All the other leaders were in Beijing. Bush, Sarkozi were in Beijing.
In those days there were many symptoms, but through Russian TV I heard the statement of the Commander of Russian Army: "Georgia is violating the Olympic Charter, since it plans to wage war at the day of opening of the Olympic Games."
For me this statement was a thunder on the clear sky.
I heard lots of provocative statements from the side of Russia, but indication with this precision, so clearly, was very concerning.
Except of the leaders, in August regular citizens also have vacations.
Accordingly, not many people watch TV and read newspaper.
Everybody prepares to watch Olympic Games.
Attacks that take place at night somewhere far away in Georgia, could be very uncertain topic and this could be an ideal timing for a large country to conduct its black business and prevent a small country from making its truth public. This was the most dangerous period for us. We had such a difficult situation as well in August of the last year, when they bombed us in the village of Tsitelubani, and in August of 2004, when they conducted provocations in Tskhinvali.
So, since August is a dangerous period, we can not remove this month from the calendar and put our life up side down.
For Russians ideal selection of dates has worked.
It took several days until Sarkozi and Bush returned from Beijing to their countries; but Putin flu to Moscow on the second day, as it apparently was planned. All Russian newspapers were stating that building of railway in Abkhazia would end on August 5.
I want to ask you: why necessarily August 5?
They were paying 1200 Laris to a Javi local to ensure that on August 5th, this base would come into order. Where did this date come from? We did not allow building materials to pass through our territory because of the base construction so they had to bring this through Russia, which cost them a lot more.
I will not even say anything about the Black Sea fleet leaving Ukraine in advance. Without taking into account the command of the President of Ukraine, to halt.
This was the command according to which they should not have been able to leave or return. But they did both.
Overall mobilization was announced not only in Northern Caucasus but also in the Russian armies they refused to give soldiers leave of absence.
I would like to underline that similar things happened every summer, but this time it went overboard. It will take time to analyze this. Georgia does not yet have a perfect intelligence. Any intelligence service would have needed at least several weeks to analyze what was taking place.
I would like to remind you that in June in entire North Caucasus region, they started to control the Russian citizens that were born in Georgia. They released each one of them from the armed forces.
We had a copy of the order that was released to record and analyze every Georgian conversation in North Caucasus.
They increased the control of the Georgia-Russia border on the Abkhazia section. This was also unusual for the holiday season. Massive repressions were started towards all suspicious elements that could have had any connection with Georgia.
This very small observation detail looks like a preparation for something serious.
Information block in Caucasus region concerning the existing situation. When we talk about this being unexpected for the world, we should take into consideration one fact, not only the holiday season in Abkhazia, was affected, but also Sochi, main Russian resort, where in past years the hotels were 100% full, and this year only 30%. Why? Because the entire Russian press was talking about a possible Russian-Georgian war.
I read the articles by Pavel Fengel Gauer and also had an opportunity to meet him. He was saying diligently that either in May or August, there would be a war in Georgia. He was very frustrated about this fact and thought that there is nothing better than this for the military journalist, especially in the summer, when he can monitor the war while on vacation. This is how the situation was forming around us.
Parallel to this was Stein Meyer, active participation of Solana, my radical, very flexible, diplomatic offers and daring letters I wrote to President Medvedev.
I imagined---if Russia did not want war, what could we have offered concerning Abkhazia that they would have agreed upon. They would not have gone to war, and we would have received something too---30% of our wishes for that phase.
I think the decision to start the military actions and plotting against Georgia was made in 2001-2002.
In the fall of 2006, Russia almost started a war, then because of three factors, they did not have a definite reaction-this was European Union, American administration, and the insufficient quality of their readiness in North Caucasus. In my opinion, the final decision concerning the dates was reached in February-March, before the Bucharest summit and the Kosovo decision. As we informed you, our meeting with Putin was only a formal dialogue. As Mr. Gia is a witness, in reality they did not have a desire for anything. On February 21st, we came out with heavy impressions and practically empty hands.
We did not annul the peaceful mandate, because, if we would have, so simply done so, half of the people in Europe and America would have started to talk about how the tension was the provocation of Georgia. For better or for worse, the peaceful mandate did help some. If we were to annul it in advance without any consultation, this would have pointed us to be the initiators of complications.
We have had big discussions about this with our partners.
We began the detailed preparation for this. The visit of Solana was devoted to this.
He began to openly talk about how we should have substituted Russian peace officers with Europeans.
We were saying, not to kick them out, but substitute them.
We had progress in this direction.
Mr. Solona began to make open statements, EU possible discussion of substituting them with European monitors. Similar outline was in the plan of Stein Meyer, though he was leaving some part of it to Russia.
There is nothing to hide; I was a student in America for 4 years, when Shevardnadze signed these peaceful contracts. Then as a student, I published several articles criticizing this fact in Georgian and foreign press.
My profession and specialty is protection of human rights in national minority issues. I have written scientific articles on this, also on international, peaceful operation works in America, and in Human Rights Institute of Norway in Oslo.
What Georgian government did then was very painful for me. They practically legalized the presence of occupants and first peacekeeper battalions were exactly that, which together with separatist were taking Sokhumi. This was very difficult for me.
We were then caught in a trap. They compared there peaceful presence there to that of United Nations presence in Abkhazia.
Our main question was not if Russians should have been there or not, but what would be the reaction after the international observers were asked to leave. We thought about this for many years.
Why did we not have heavy military equipment in Kurtasa, Tamarsheni? Because the peaceful mandate did not take this into account.
According to the same peaceful mandate, Georgia played by the rules the entire time. Our decency brought us here.
We were following the peaceful mandate to the end. There were only lightly equipped police there. When the situation escalated, it was too late to bring in the heavy equipment.
It was the same in Abkhazia, for the sake of international UN mandate.
Taking into account the international principles, we were very reserved about coming out of the Moscow and Dagomisi contracts.
Mr. Paata, you and I were both in Zugdidi on August 9th, when our neighbors completely violated the peaceful mandate before us and the entire international concord.
They appeared, and we were watching there moves closely from the tanks, armed equipment and countless military forces.
They told international observers-we are giving you 20 minutes to leave the premises, we are entering the territory of Samegrelo.
It did not take our renowned observers 20 minutes, they fled immediately.
This was a clear example for us, of how un-lawlessness triumphs over people that want to abide by the law.
Russia saw that the international process actually got involved, the issues that were frozen for years took a plunge.
Do you know that, in June, the general assembly of UN, after 15 years, acknowledged the ethnic cleansing that took place in Abkhazia?
Ever since the international process started, he said we will not accept internationalization, but will accept what happened and then from a new starting point talk about everything.
We ended up in this situation.
Should we have acted differently? I still believe that the right tactic, politics and strategy was keeping the international agreement.
We are a small country, and for us keeping of the international contract is the alpha and omega.
The borders of a small country and its sovereignty are not protected by harsh force, but by international norms, contracts, and the goodwill of international friendship.
Russia could afford to be reckless.
You mentioned the meeting of Bush and Putin in Beijing. I asked this question to many ministers, but unfortunately did not receive an answer. On August 7th, inside and outside of the country who was consulted before making the decision?
The second question refers to Matthew Bryza. We found out following information about him. August 8th, Mathew Bryza arrived in Georgia, but you would not meet him for two days, because of the announcement made by Bush, which according to experts was inadequate reality of what took place on Tskhinvali territory on August 8th?
We make our own decisions without asking for permission.
First, who I tried to contact on the peak of escalation was President Medvedev. Through Ministry of Foreign affairs, they refused to contact us on this issue.
Second, who I tried to contact was Popov, to see if he could decide this relationship on the spot.
The only person who we were able to contact was the general Kulakhmetov. Popov did not give us an answer either, and even though he came to Georgia, he avoided going to and regulating situation in Tskhinvali.
On August 7th, situation became difficult and many of our military peacekeepers were killed. Fire was ceased only at times. On the evening of August 7th, I started to contact every ally and friend on my phone contact list.
I called the Presidents of Poland, and Lithuania, I found the foreign minister of Sweden, and the general secretary of Nato, Skheper.
I introduced them to the situation as much as possible through an open line. Gave them the details of the serious situation on the location.
I said the same thing to Carl Bild. Every one was as surprised as us that the situation in relations to Tskhinvali had gotten so complicated.
Why? Because all Russia talked about was Kodori.
Medvedve, Lavrov, and other Russian officials made 2-3 announcements daily regarding Kodori, though they did not remember to mention Tskhinvali.
Though I met with Matthew Brisa, I do not remember exactly when.
In those days, we had a lot to worry about. I went in the direction of Tskhinvali several times; I was in Gori, where I was conducting conferences. On August 9th I was in Zugdidi. It was impossible to fly. I was broadcasted live worldwide.
This was my priority, though the state did not consist of only us. If anybody came, they were greeted by all levels of government officials who spoke with them.
I was not angry at anyone; I just figured our partners needed some time.
The time was very precious, to figure out the complicated situation, though Russians helped them figure this out quick.
The US ambassador in Georgia came to me and presented me with the speeches of Condoleza Rise and Lavrov. It was technically impossible to speak with everyone, Russians were very aggressive.
When we asked them what the reason of their intervention was, they told us word-to-word, this was August 8th, our goal is the complete destruction of Georgia. Hopefully all our partners will confirm this.
Did you know that Mr. Sarkozy, the President of France, divulged other, more vivid details about what Russian leadership was planning to do with me personally?
I am not going to go into details, but they expressed their opinions through this terminology. They did not limit their threats, neither details on how to carry them out.
They needed time, and Russians "helped" them figure out the situation. After several days, the serious involvement of our partners clearly limited Russian's maneuver, which left Russia aggression towards Georgia.
Mr. President, one of the main accusations towards Georgia and personally you is that you attacked a sleeping city (Tskhinvali). Do you consider that it was the right decision to attack the city at night? And what do you think were your commands before the actions were taken; the general official stuff informed us about this. We would like to hear from you. Why where these measures taken at night?
Since we touched on the episode of August 7th, following question arises. Mr. President, at what point did you realize that this was not a traditional provocation, but a broad-scale invasion? At what point did you decide to get Georgia involved in military actions?
Before the final decision was made to begin military actions, why were the peaceful citizens not evacuated from the villages of the Tskhinvali region?
There is a lot of talk among the international society in Russia, weather or not Georgian armed forces executed an attack at that time on peace forces.
Where you aware of the announcement made by Kurashvili, then the leader of the Georgian peace forces? How the expense of several billions was justified, which was spent for building of the Georgian army and for all the events that were called for forming it.
If we would not have had an army that we did, and if we had not reached a decision on military operations, what would the picture look like?
Russia was preparing for this long time ago. We are dealing with the propaganda machine of the authoritarian country. This machine has an enormous experience. Starting from the Soviet time, it has not been easy to battle with them. I was in Ukraine, the starvation in Ukraine, the marking of the true genocide. There were journalists there that saw people dying of starvation. More then 7 million people were killed, by which they ethnically cleansed entire Ukraine. This was foreseen politics of the Soviet leaders of the time. There were people who saw and recorded this, but Russian Soviet propaganda found journalists that completely denied this. For example, according to ‘New York Times' then, everything that was written was a folly.
All is well and the Soviet citizens are well, they said. They have enormous experience in selling such lies as the truth.
Today I gave you a lot of information, and it takes time to analyze all this.
Democratic countries act in such a manner. There is no black and white in democratic countries, everything is complex and detailed. In authoritarian countries, everything is simple.
Terrible Georgians attacked the sleeping city of Tskhinvali. Shooting from every kind of weapon, annihilated sleeping population, and committing crime.
Russians went in and rescued peaceful population from this barbaric invasion.
Easy right? It is a complete lie.
As Gabbles said, the bigger the lie, easier it is to sell it.
This was a classic Gabbles military propaganda.
Unfortunately, there are still such journalists in democratic countries also, and the charm of democracy is having different kinds of people, out of which some believe the lies they are fed and some don't.
For a while now, Tskhinvali has not been an ordinary city and it definitely was not on August 7th.
In the summer of 2004, Russia made a conscious decision to turn Tskhinvali into a military base.
Practically every adult male, which supported himself by smuggling, received salary from Russian army, or from Russian secret service, since we blocked smuggling.
Every adult male held a weapon and their only work place was a ditch in and around Tskhinvali.
A huge military base was built in Java, Tskhinvali.
Let's be honest and say that when we entered Tskhinvali it was well consolidated, population emptied, living in the regime of military attacks, elite settlement or we can just say it was a military base.
Few days in advance, on August 2nd, the evacuation of Tskhinvali population began.
When I came back from Italy, I told Vano Merabishvili that I did not like these happenings. I also called from Italy several times and said that I did not like the rhetoric of Russia, the propagandistic way of preparation. I was told that nothing was taking place on the location. But I worried about August.
When I returned, the situation was complicated. There were explosions before my arrival. When I asked the Ministry of Internal affairs, what it meant to announce evacuation, they responded, that according to their conclusion this was a propagandistic trick. They were taking children out to the camps and wanted to imitate the start of a war.
When they checked their information, and I also, through my own channels started to double check, we discovered that the massive evacuation of Tskhinvali was taking place.
This was happening in the following manner. They were telling men to take their families out of Tskhinvali. When they would approach the borders, they only let women, children and elderly across.
As soon as the population left Tskhinvali, the announced that it was evacuated.
Of course there were homeless people left behind, those that did not have family members that would fight.
Evacuation did not mean that Russians fell in love with Tskhinvali population. It was just that from the military point of view, this was absolutely unavoidable and was an important step.
Tskhinvali and the surrounding villages that are not under our control, connect to Russia via a narrow tunnel.
They began to move in the heavy military equipment.
As soon as the evacuation began, more heavy military equipment was brought in.
I do think we were late.
If we would have blocked the roads a few days earlier, this much heavy equipment could not have been brought in. But since the decision was made, they would have still brought it in from different places. But in that moment we could have gained more tactical advantage.
I would like to underline that then, everyone would have said that Georgia started the war first. Though from a military point of view, this could have been more correct.
When they took the population out, they opened the way for armed equipment. In combat conditions, large amounts of civilians and equipment, moving opposite directions from each other of course hindered the entrance of the army and the armed forces on the Georgian territory. Secondly-the warriors that stayed in Tskhinvali, the locals that within the last years have served in Russian army and in armed structures, or so called South Osetia army, which in realty represented Russian structured branches. If they thought about taking care of their families, than they would not have an opportunity to fight. The important thing was to free them from worrying about their families.
This was a rational military consideration behind this evacuation,. Up to 50 Russian journalists came, among them majority were from the Ministry of Defense, to highlight the war. While the world was asleep, the Russians were getting ready to highlight the war. On August 6th, we received trustworthy information about Russian border-guards crossing the Roki Tunnel, they allowed local separatists.
Do not ever say that Ossetians were let out from Georgian villages. In reality, the majority of ethnic Ossetians were on this side, and they incurred most losses.
They were not Ossetians, they were separatists and today they are representatives of occupational leadership.
They let this people out and told them that they were taking control of the tunnel.
Despite the fact that Russians arranged provocations there for a long time, taking over this side of the Russian-Georgian border was the first and unprecedented step.
This was extremely disturbing for us.
Then we received information that, a lot of heavy equipment was moving through the tunnel that crossed Georgia-Russia border.
We received information that on the slopes surrounding Tskhinvali they added more Russian soldiers.
We also received information that in the North, general mobilization was announced. The combat pilots were called, which has never happened before.
We also received information that this did not carry episodical characteristic, but all this sat in one system and looked like the beginning of the military intervention.
Another attack on Avnevi took place on August 7th.
In the morning I visited our soldiers in the Gori hospital.
On August 5th, we brought every European ambassador to see how the villages that were controllable by us had been bombed.
No body can say that we did not warn any one.
Hopefully they send the information to their government.
We showed everyone everything in advance.
On August 6th, the killed our people in Avnebi, the attack was carried out at 2 o'clock. Two peacekeepers were killed and few others injured.
Davit Kezerashivili begged me to allow general headquarters the use of artillery in order to suppress the fire points from which the enemy was shooting the villages and to bring out the wounded.
I would like to admit, that regrettably I denied his request and told him that no matter what happens, we will not open fire, since we were practically approaching the spiral escalation.
Unfortunately, I took this heavy responsibility upon myself.
Afterwards, Davit Iakobashvili spoke with general Kulakhmetov.
I repeated myself twice over the phone that no matter what the cost, the confrontation had to stop. In preceding days, Kulakhmetov confirmed in writing that there were attacks on our villages. He told Davit Kezerashvili that they were shooting us from the back.
It was understood that they were practically declining the responsibility on the following actions and the advice of Kulakhmetov was that in the case of one-sided cease-fire announcement, the situation would have been rendered.
First time in my life, I took the advice of the Russian general when making a decision.
I announced on television that I was declaring amnesty, general demilitarization and general disarmament.
Mr. President, could you please specify the time, since you also gave an order regarding formation of the peace corridor?...
We are talking about 7 p.m. in the evening.
Then I received information that the movement of the equipment was continuing.
At 10 p.m. the bombing of our controlled territories was renewed. Upon analyzing every base, it became clear that the heavy equipment which came in from Russia, passed Java, and was coming from the villages which according to peaceful mandate were quite unprotected.
We did not have heavy equipment. Russia violated the contract and came in with the heavy equipment.
Before, they kept this heavy equipment in Java, so did the separatists from Tskhinvali, since they were not allowed to bring them on this side according to the peace contract.
Again, they were the ones that through their own initiative, unilaterally and harshly violated the peace contract.
I had gone through consultations for this in advance, as to what means existed for stopping Russia.
The only means was artillery which was coming towards the villages.
So when we all evaluated the situation, I gave an order to suppress the firing points and to stop the Russian heavy equipment from entering; right then and many times since I strictly warned them to do everything to save the peaceful population.
This people are the population of Tskhinvali---our Ossetians.
These are our citizens, our flesh and blood. Our desire was not to take over the city, but to help these people.
But at this stage, the problem was very specific; to stop the heavy equipment and save the several tens of thousands of our citizens, which practically appeared in military isolation.
Bordering road was unprotected and was being bombed regularly; villages were being bombed from where the heavy equipment was being brought in. In earlier days, Kokoiti announced that their goal was to clean the city from bandits, and none of us doubted that by this he meant the entire population.
In reality ethno-political cleansing of these villages was beginning.
Why did I not just say ethnic? Because the majority of those village populations were ethnically Ossetians.
There is nothing to hide. Most of these people are not ethnically Georgian, but these people were our flesh and blood.
In reality we had to choose between bad and worse.
This was the most difficult choice in my life.
Mr. President, could please describe the details of the circumstances under which you gave out an order, another words, where were the powerful ministers. For example, who was with you? What means of communications was used to give out this order?
Detailed answers were already given for these, I can send additional accounts if needed.
They only person with me was Temur Iakobashvili. They all were at their designated locations. Avnevi was bombed at 2 o'clock.
We moved brigades from Tbilisi and Gori and brought them into military readiness. At this point, we did not bring any military brigades from the west, since we considered this tension to be temporary.
If anything were to start, what was already there would have been enough.
Every military leader was on location.
Of course the order was given out to the general headquarters.
The Minster of Defense was aware of this order, but before this we had considered many situations.
In the afternoon we had a meeting with the security members.
Many of these members were on holidays.
Gela Bezhuashvili was in America, Davit Bakradze in Turkey, and had to change 3 airplanes in order to return, since it took 3 days to bring him back. Not only were the members of the government, but also many military leaders on holidays.
In April-May, we were in a very intense regime from the military point of view, and this is why Russians started this escalation.
Since the military personnel are not robots, as soon as the situation settled a little in July, I allowed the minister of defense to let many of them take leave of absence; I connected this to the Olympics, so that around this time Russian would maintain and not lose it.
In the orders that you gave out, did you include entering the city of Tskhinvali, and if so under what conditions?
I would like to tell you that first of all, dividing of Tskhinvali and other settlements was absolutely artificial, done so by our enemy to shock the world's concord.
They entered unprotected city of Tskhinvali and destructed it. At that moment, regrettably more population was concentrated in the village gorges than in Tskhinvali. Not save peaceful population was pointed out very clearly. I am very proud of how our army is trained to protect the peaceful population to the maximum.
When the heavy equipment was already up to Liakhvi Gorge, at one point, our military and myself became very worried about the fact that it was practically impossible getting the population of that gorge out without putting out the firing points in and around Tskhinvali.
It turns out that the only way was to bring the population out of Tskhinvali.
I think the people were brought out from surrounding roads, it was an easy road to hit from village Dmenisi and would have been impossible to bring people out without first suppressing fire points.
If it was not for our army, the casualties would have been tens of thousands and we would have had new Srebrenitsa. People that came in treated the people that were left behind just like Karaedichi and Ladichi treated population in Srebrenitsa.
In reality we snatched these people away from them.
Of course you asked me, why did we not do this sooner? Because this escalation carried such a chronic characteristic during all these years, that catching a moment and bringing these people out every other day because of any complication, practically this was formed. Their heroism is what got our population adapted to some level of violence that was permanently present.
Theses people were always terrorized, just like snipers bombed Saraevo.
The world heard about Saraevo, but we were the only ones that knew about village Nuli, population of Avnevi.
Yesterday, Mr. Merabishvili let you hear the records of the conversation about how to vanish a settled village on Nuli from the map. This is similar to what was taking place in Srebrenitsa, has a Georgian leader ever given out such an order?
As for the Georgian leaders, the announcement of Kurashvili was a complete foolishness. This man did not have neither a mandate nor battle order, because he was a representative of peacekeeping forces and a leader of few people that had peace mandates.
When this situation took place, because of his self liking and a desire to show himself off, just like some others in our society, he decided to make an announcement about restoring a constitutional order. He decided to substitute everyone, the President, the commander in chief, the minister, and to say something "smart' for everyone. Of course this was used against us by our enemy to produce propaganda. This was a harsh violation. Restoring of a constitutional order is a Chechen terminology that was used by Russia. We are not Russia, and Tskhinvali is not Chechnia.
As for the military expenses, if it was not of our army's resistance, Paata Davitaia would not have been the only one sitting as the head of commission and questioning the President about details, which he was planning to transmit to the platform last year, only this did not have any leverage. The leverage is in your hands, since none of us would be in this parliament otherwise.
Here would have been a subject like Igor Giorgadze, general Borisov.
Georgian army, along with the heroism of our hundreds of thousands of people, that came out in the streets of Tbilisi, in the danger of bombing conditions, saved the Georgian State.
If the Russians had not thought that the army was saved, Tbilisi would have been unprotected.
What would have stopped them from entering Tbilisi?
Putin said out loud that they needed 20 minutes to reach Tbilisi.
If there were to be no army, they would have moved in on Digomi road in 20 minutes, and would have been at the Parliament building in half an hour.
They knew that our artillery was arranged around Tbilisi.
They knew that we had begun mining bridges.
They knew that practically every brigade was able to battle.
They knew that the government did not fall apart, but stood very steadfastly.
The combination of all these, and the strict announcement of President Bush, is what kept them from entering Tbilisi.
This was not their goodwill. The strategic goal of Russia was disturbance of the State, falling of the government by violence, control of the oil-pipe-line and gas-pipe-line from mid-Asia and Caspian Sea countries.
Fortunately, today none of these goals are reached. Fortunately or unfortunately? Unfortunately, because this pushes them to go for all this again.
Hence, I think that I took 4 billion from my heart, which I spent on the army. With this money I would have liked to build highways, I would have liked to make every school look like the Tirdznisi school in the conflict zone, which the teachers saved. I would have liked the existence of all such hospitals as are in Kutaisi, Gori, and Tbilisi, were treatment could have been free, pensions 3-4 times more.
It was a difficult decision to spend so much on armament, but I always felt the danger and I still feel it fiercely, though this should not be a basis for panic.
Georgia needs protection. We should be able to defend our interests and fight for this.
Despite the fact that there is an economic crisis and we are having to cut down on the expenses.
You probably watched on television the training of our army on polygon of Orpolo. Armed forces are being filled in and intensely trained in fast pace. We need following military reforms to come closer to NATO standards.
The biggest mistake would have been withdrawing all the diplomatic mechanisms. If our country needs it, we should be ready to fight and to sacrifice our lives. We, the government of Georgia, along with our military are ready for this.
Mr. President, we were informed that Russia is monitoring your speech by every informational means and is transmitting the fact that as though you admitted to starting a war in Tskhinvali. Information is being transmitted via this propagandistic machine.
Let God judge them as they deserve for spreading such information.
We admit that we did not give in and resisted them.
We confirmed and admitted what we always have, that Georgian government decided to conduct battle operation to resist broad-scale Russian intervention and broad-scale attacks in order to protect peaceful population.
I would like to underline and confirm once again, that no matter how hard of a decision this might have been, this was the main responsibility of the democratically elected leader, protection of his country, its borders, and peaceful population.
of the President of Georgia