An interview with Shalva Natelashvili, the founder and chairman of the Georgian Labor Party, and a veteran leader of the Georgian opposition.
How, in your view, did the war between Georgia and Russia begin?
There is a long history of conflict in the region-at a minimum one hundred years. It's all tied to the rise of the Soviet regime, Leninism, Stalinism, and the complications of the post-Soviet period. Tensions have repeatedly mounted and then cooled, but the situation was always changing. With each era, something new was occurring in Georgian-Russian relations.
Such a situation in these complicated conditions is one of aggression and occupation by Russia, de facto and de jure, but President Saakashvili provoked the events that led to this occupation. There are innocent people suffering, and thousands have died on both sides
All this brings back signs of a Cold War-a geopolitical conflict, centered upon Georgia becoming a member of NATO. There was also a certain split between NATO members on the Georgian situation.
It's notable that the crisis was in the month of August: everyone's on vacation or watching the Olympics except Georgians. It isn't discussed how Saakashvili is running scared from city to city, afraid of airplanes. His policy is a catastrophe for Georgia.
Why did President Saakashvili order Tskhinvali to be taken by force?
He probably had hopes of receiving some kind of external support. Someone must have lied to him to give him these false hopes-whether it was from the West, South, or North is uncertain. Someone was deceiving him.
Also, Saakashvili had real delusions of grandeur, and saw himself as the Napoleon of Asia, which is a psychological disorder for an individual and a tragedy for Georgia.
Third, he wanted to speed up the entry of Georgia into NATO, but this is a mistake: the issue of the Abkhazia region would still remain unresolved.
Fourth, he's committed crimes against democracy-he established a one-party dictatorship in Georgia in all the elections held in Georgia during his reign (local, presidential, parliamentary), closed the free flow of information, seized TV companies and dozens of innocents died.
What's your opinion about the role of American support during the period leading up the war?
Saakashvili didn't make full use of the resources and support provided by our American friends to prepare the Georgian army for its entrance into NATO, but he rather used it for the attack of Tskhinvali. All those resources were meant for NATO preparations. Unfortunately we considered the American administration to be our friends.
President Saakashvili is a person that has dictator-like qualities, who has dangerous plans for the country and the entire region, one that cannot be trusted or negotiated with. This is a person who has used tear gas against demonstrators. How can this person have a sound foreign policy? Saakashvili uses his security services to repress the country. Saakashvili is unfit to deal with the internal politics of Georgia, and he can't get along with his colleagues, let alone with opponents in Russia and Europe, nor his American friends.
If you could solve the controversial issue of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, how would you do it, taking into consideration Russia and the West?
I would tell the political leader of Georgia who is asked to deal with this issue to employ only peaceful means, without war, because the Ossetians and Abkazians are citizens of our country-they are of one body, our people. War has never solved anything, so we have to take care of it through diplomacy, even if this process may be quite long. Politics is the art of patience. We can solve these issues with the help of NATO and Russia, without causing an international crisis.
Are his ratings going to suffer because of the conflict?
It's a fact that the Georgian armed forces are pretty much completely defeated.
Thousands have died already. Just a small percentage of Georgians support the president. He had only 25-30 percent approval at his best periods, and now he is probably at his worst.
How will this conflict affect the Georgian-Russian relationship?
First of all, Russia must withdraw its armed forces out of Georgia. We must remember that Georgia did not begin with Saakashvili and it won't end with him. Georgia has managed to wisely chart its path amongst great empires throughout the last two thousand years-it will survive this as well.
It needs to develop deeper relations with the West but not cut ties with Russia in the process-make friends even with Russia. We don't have another way. Georgia needs friendships with Turkey, with China, with everyone in the South, West, etc. We can't look in only one direction. Our policy looks to all directions.
If Russia were to withdraw all of its troops tomorrow, how should Georgian-Russian relations develop from that point on?
Well, you understand that Russia refuses to have connections with Saakashvili at this time, which makes the situation quite complicated, but I think that Russia can look at it objectively. We always demanded that Saakashvili step down or retire. For this reason, the Labor Party is being persecuted by the authorities.
How can Georgia and Russia overcome these tensions and live peacefully?
Russia and Georgia are fated to live peacefully together. Russia should recognize Georgian territorial integrity, and Georgia shouldn't conduct a strident anti-Russia policy.