Georgia’s ambassador to Belgium speaks
Posted by lahar9jhadav on August 13, 2008
Georgia’s ambassador to Belgium speaks to Lateline
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Tony Jones
Georgia’s ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union, Salome Samadashvili, talks to Lateline about the conflict in Georgia. She explains why she is seeking help from the European Union to help in the conflict.
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Salome Samadashvili is Georgia’s ambassador to the European Union. I spoke to her just a short time ago in Brussels.
Salome Samadashvili, thank you for joining us.
SALOME SAMADASHVILI, GEORGIAN AMBASSADOR TO EU & BELGIUM: Thank you for having me. We welcome every opportunity to share the story of what is happening in Georgia with the people around the world, so thank you for giving me this chance.
TONY JONES: Do you believe the crisis is now receding somewhat, or are you still convinced that Georgia is facing a full invasion from Russia?
SALOME SAMADASHVILI: Well, honestly it is very difficult to understand what is happening in this nightmare that we are facing. And it’s very difficult to follow the situation, to analyse what is happening or what are the possible future developments because I keep receiving information from the capital obviously on the recent developments, the last one being that just an hour ago, now maybe a little bit more, two hours ago, the Russians have bombed for the first time the city centre of the town of Gori which is outside of the conflict area, just some 30 kilometres from Tbilisi, maybe 40 kilometres from Tbilisi, the capital of the country. Meanwhile, the Russian President says that they have achieved their goal of the military operation and therefore they are disengaging. Meanwhile we have in Western Georgia the Russian troops ordering the civilian administration of the city of Zugdidi, again outside of the conflict area, to leave their posts and trying to take over control of the city. So it is extremely difficult situation. I just received information that in Gori bombing it seems that two foreign journalists were killed just today. And we do not feel at all, I think, standing from where we stand in Georgia that this is anywhere near finished or ended. And also I want to say that Russian behaviour has been so unpredictably outrageous that we really do not know what to expect next, and we expect the worst.
TONY JONES: Only yesterday you seemed to believe that we were seeing something like the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in ’68. Do you still think that is possible?
SALOME SAMADASHVILI: I believe that it is still possible. We have now no doubt, and by “we” I mean everyone in Georgia including the supporters of the Government, including the opposition forces, general public, no one questions anymore that the Russians are pursuing the goal of the changing of the leadership of the country. We have know for a long time that the Western-orientated government of President Saakashvili, which consists of many people like me who were educated in the West, who carry Western values, who want to create a society which is sharing the values of democracy and human rights and other values with the Western society, has been a thorn in the side of the Russians, but they have, I don’t think we have ever imagined that they would go this far in their attempt to deprive the Georgian people of their chance to build a European democracy. And this is what we are witnessing now, and I do not believe that the crisis is anywhere far from over.
TONY JONES: Your own President Saakashvili has said several times that he expects concrete actions from the West, from the United States and from NATO. What sort of concrete actions does he expect? I mean, does he seriously expect military support, for example?
SALOME SAMADASHVILI: Well, first of all I think that it’s important to bear in mind that Russia is declaring itself to be a strategic partner of both the European Union and NATO. We have all lived through a paradigm in the post-Soviet world of a certain paradigm of their relationship with Russia, which assumed that the Russians are trying to build a society which is, well, you know, maybe not the mirror image of the Western world but something which is in between of the Soviet Union and the western societies. But a society where, with which the European Union and the NATO countries can have a good partner relationships. Now what Russia is doing by this military campaign in my country is that it is establishing a new reality in its relationship with the West. It is saying “We are here, we will not allow any other parts of the former Soviet Union to build independent states, we will not allow them to build democratic states, and we are on our way to rebuild some sort of, you know, greater Russia or empire, whatever you want to call it. That calls for action. That calls maybe not for military action unless the situation deteriorates even further. I honestly do not want to exclude at this point that we will face a situation where the only solution will be to at least promise the military assistance to Georgia in the case of need. But at this point the Western countries have to take immediate and very serious measures and explain to the Russians that they are up to the game and if they want to establish the new rules of games, you know, this is the beginning of it because I don’t think that after what happened in Georgia we can continue to pretend that Russia is a willing partner, working with the Western countries on solution of the numerous problems which face the world and that mandates a strong reaction and stronger response. And the sooner we have this responds, the better it would be because the world has witnessed what has happened to Europe in the beginning of the last century, in the first half of the last century, when attempts of the rulers of dubious, you know, nature were allowed to take over the small nations.
TONY JONES: Now you were very emotional personally, you were very personally emotional about this yesterday. Were you responding to the reality that Europe and the United States were not going to be coming to your rescue if you were invaded by Russia?
SALOME SAMADASHVILI: It’s very difficult not to be emotional when your country is attacked and under siege. Yesterday there was a moment when I think all of us believed that it would take something extraordinary to prevent disappearance of our country from the face of the earth. You know, we are people, most of the Georgian leadership are people like me, who have lived in the West for a long time. We left in the ’90s to receive our education in the West, and we all realise that we want to do is go back to Georgia and build our country up, and we want to live in our country and we want our people to have a better future, and this is what we have devoted our lives to. And to realise that just in a matter of hours all your dreams for your country, for your future, might just disappear and you might become a province of the Russian Federation administered by the hated Russian security agencies, and, you know, having the governors who represent the same kind of mentality, that will, that meant the end of any future for my country and for my people. So it’s very difficult not to be emotional. This concerns the future of each and every one of us in Georgia, and you know, I think it’s difficult to stay calm under the circumstances.
TONY JONES: Many people believe that President Mikheil Saakashvili precipitated the crisis by sending the Georgian army into South Ossetia. That’s been widely condemned now as a terrible miscalculation. Did he let anyone in NATO know that he intended to do this?
SALOME SAMADASHVILI: I think the decisions on that, as you know, Russia has been trying to cause provocation this that region for a very long time, especially mounting on the pressure as of April. If you remember, if you followed NATO debates in Bucharest when we had a discussion regarding granting of membership action plan to Georgia, we unfortunately were not given that, and what we said was this was a signal to the Russians that they should instigate further crisis in the country between then and December when NATO will go back to discussing the question of the membership action plan for Georgia. And they’ll do what is in their best interest too, and what is in their best capabilities to cause instability in the country. And that was, indeed, very coordinated campaign, conducted by the Russians, especially since April, and we had people dying on the ground because they came under fire from the Russian-backed separatist regime, which we consider to be a criminal regime, killing people, and I can tell you as we speak now Georgians are still being executed in the campaign which I’m sure will be assessed as ethnic cleansing in the Georgian villages of the conflict region where people are shot based on ethnicity by the other side.
TONY JONES: Can I just interrupt you there?
SALOME SAMADASHVILI: Yes.
TONY JONES: Because the problem you have now is that some 15,000 South Ossetian refugees have now fled into southern Russia. And they are talking about the barbaric Georgian army who indiscriminately shelled their civilian populations. And so now you this crisis which was precipitated by the Georgian intervention in South Ossetia. Now, did anyone consider that this would be the opening for Russia to send in its troops with overwhelming force?
SALOME SAMADASHVILI: Well, first of all I want to say that we have close to, I don’t know the estimates, but maybe 80,000 refugees from various places in Georgia which the Russians have been bombing, and I’m just going today from here to the European Commission to ask for the aid for the humanitarian disaster that we are facing. So it is, you know, we shouldn’t forget the story about what happened to the Georgian population and we have much more numerous refugees and I think casualties on our side are, I mean, they are heavy. As to what happened from the other side, I do not think that there is any independent information yet. And what Georgia is ready to do is, you know, Georgia has always been asking for internationalisation of this conflict. We have been asking for a replacement of the Russian peacekeeping forces with the international force, we have put forward a number of peace proposals and peace plans begging, asking for Western assistance in implementing them, and we were trying to explain to everyone that it cannot happen with the Russians having complete monopoly over this conflict region and conflict process, the conflict resolution process. The Russians were the principal brokers in the peace process, they were peacekeepers on the ground, and now we are where we are. So I think it’s, it’s unfair to accuse the Georgian leadership in an attempt to seek a war and seek the forceful solution to these problems. We have been devoted to the peace and we have done our best to find a peaceful solution to this problem. Unfortunately there is a point where the Government has to start protecting its own citizens on its own ground. Unlike the Russians we do not claim that we have a right to assault and attack the neighbouring country, you know, under the pretext of protecting our citizens. But on the Georgian territory, when Georgian citizens are dying, Government has to take an action to establish law and order, and this was the attempt of the Georgian Government, which was then used to basically start a full pledged war against the country. Did we expect this? I don’t think anyone of us could even dream of this in our worse nightmare.
TONY JONES: We will, I’m sorry, Salome Samadashvili, we will have to leave you there. We are out of time. There are many things to talk about. As the conflict unfolds, perhaps you’ll be gracious enough to come back and talk to us again.
SALOME SAMADASHVILI: With pleasure. As I said we would like the world to know our story, we are ready to speak with anyone interested at any time. So I welcome the approach, thank you very much for having me.