In an interview with New Europe's television arm, NETV, on the sidelines of the European People's Party convention in Warsaw, Poland April 29-30, Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Russia Duma, reiterated the Russian position that it was Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who began the conflict by having Georgian troops move into South Ossetia last August, which the Russian lawmaker said forced Russia to deploy its own troops, and only after, he said, Saakashvili misinterpreted signs from the West, such as promises Georgia would get into NATO, and which led him not to talk with Russia over the provinces which had long sought to break away.
"As long as you do not communicate, as long as you try to use military force to solve these conflicts, you will come nowhere, and this is what Russia tries to prevent and this is why Russia was forced - I would like to stress it - was forced to intervene and was forced later on to recognise the independence of these two Republics for the simple reason they had no other alternative if you had to secure the lives of people living there, to bring security and peace to the region." He said Georgia tried to convince the United States and European Union that it was Russian aggression against a small country that was at play. "In case you do not look into details in the prehistory of a conflict, this one would definitely seem to you that a small but free and democratic Georgia fighting this large aggressive Russia, but this is very much simplified ... it's a conflict not between Georgia and Russia, it's a conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, Georgia and Abkhazia."
The conflict didn't last long. After five days of heavy fighting, the Georgian forces were ejected from South Ossetia and Abkhazia and Russian troops entered Georgia, occupying the cities of Poti and Gori among others. After mediation by the French presidency of the European Union, the parties reached a preliminary ceasefire agreement, but fighting did not stop immediately, but after Russia pulled most of its troops out of Georgia, buffer zones were established around Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Russia created check points in Georgia's interior before recognizing the former Georgian provinces, which Georgia considers Russian-occupied territories.
Asked whether Saakashvili inadvertently walked into a bear trap by misreading international signals he thought were equivalent to support, Kosachev said, "The major mistake Saakashvili made was to promised his people, his electorate, to solve the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the end of his second term. As soon as you give those kind of promises, you are trapped. You have no other options but to do something and that's what he was trying to do." Kosachev said it was critical to remember that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February of 2008 and within two months was being recognized by some European countries, although Russia opposed it and still fiercely does.
"I believe, at that moment, Saakashvili interpreted that development in the wrong way, that the territorial integrity of states is no longer a holy cow in Europe, and (felt) ‘This is how I need to do something, I need to be quick, I need to be resolute, in order to keep the territorial integrity of Georgia while the territorial integrity of other countries like Serbia are being changed.'"
NATO'S FALSE LURE
Kosachev added that, "I believe it was an individual decision by Mr. Saakashvili, but I cannot deny that all these games that, let's say NATO played with Georgia, (promising) ‘We shall give you a membership, and membership is absolutely possible, and we will definitely support you in all your disagreements with Russia.'
That was also a very false wrong signal given and maybe misinterpreted by Mr. Saakashvili. But in any case it was the wrong attitude and it provoked this type of developments." Since then, some political analysts have said Russia's end game was to have the Americaneducated Saakashvili deposed by his own people, and the Georgian president indeed has been under immense pressure at home because of the disastrous consequences of the conflict, which razed Georgian communities, and which led to the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and civilians. Kosachev was coy in his answer, but led to the conclusion that, while it would not act directly, Russia would not be unhappy if Saakashivili were out of office, suggesting strongly that is the only way for relations between the countries to get better. He was harsh in his assessment of Saakashvili's behaviour, referring to him as "Mr." instead of President.
"Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly promised us on different occasions, not to use military force, which he used in August last year, so Mr. Saakashvili personally does not have any confidence in Russia. We cannot communicate with a person who lies. This is what he has done and this is what he is still doing. I believe the position now inside of Georgia is much better than previously. What happens with Mr. Saakashvili is definitely a domestic affair for Georgia, and we will definitely not interfere, not at all. But I believe the chance for improving relations between Georgia and Russia will come sooner or later, but will come when we have some other leadership in Georgia."
Last year, Kosachev, in his position as Russia's representative to the Council of Europe, which is the main bastion of human rights for the EU, accused the Georgian president of violating the values of the council, ignoring human rights and the rule of law. Kosachev, a veteran diplomat who manages to mix strong suggestions with political boilerplate, said then what he reiterated to NETV, although he was more couched at the time, not long after the conflict, when tensions were running high and the EU was going to send monitors to the region. "Russia had no other choice but to act immediately, protecting people's lives, protecting peace in the region and enforcing peace," he told Russia Today. If anything, as he showed when he talked to New Europe, Kosachev has gotten tougher on Saakashvili.