Georgia’s president Mikhail Saakashvili reaffirmed his country’s pro-Western orientation at the meeting of NATO’s parliamentary assembly in Paris this week. EuroNews asked him about Tbilisi’s drive to join the Atlantic Alliance, relations with Russia, energy supplies, and the latest peace plan aimed at reconciling Georgia with its breakaway territory of Abkhazia.
EuroNews: How have NATO officials here assessed Georgia5;s efforts to conform with the Organisation’s standards ?
M Saakashvili: On the performance side, there are no real concerns about Georgia. People have been saying that, in terms of military reform and some other aspects of transformation, we have done very well. Of course, it’s a much wider process, it’s the political dimension that really matters.
EN: Some defence analysts have claimed that your reforms lack transparency, especially in military spending. How can you ensure independent oversight?
MS: We are a democracy and we have to report to our own nationals and they need to know if we are to spend something on the military rather than on their social development. They need to know how this money is spent: is it really well spent? We are under much harder scrutiny from inside than from outside.
EN: The West has expressed concerns about alleged human rights violations by interior ministry troops. One Georgian NGO says “the government lacks the will to investigate controversial cases”.
MS: If one single reform has been really successful in Georgia it’s the reform of the interior ministry. It was the most corrupt and untransparent ministry you could imagine. Georgia ranks among the three most non-corrupt nations of Europe, that’s not my assessment, it’s from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. Human Rights Watch and Freedom House have spoken about the continuous progress in human rights.
EN: At this month’s Kiev summit, you revived GUAM, renaming it the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development. The Ukrainian president said the group would not only look at energy and transport projects but at security projects as well. Can you elaborate?
MS: We have good programmes with NATO and we would like to further enhance them rather than create something else. We would like to facilitate things, not only for us, but for Europe, to involve Europeans more, to get better access for the Europeans to energy markets, and generally to enable Europe to be much more present in our region.
EN: You have told your European partners that Russia is not a dangerous energy provider if there are alternatives. Yet the Northern European Gas Pipeline will make Europe more dependent on Russia…
MS: Nobody should push Russia away because Russia is the most important supplier. Russia needs to stay in this game, Russia needs to be respected, Russia needs to be engaged, but engaged based on market principles, based on freedom of taking decisions not only for suppliers but also for buyers, and then everything will look much better than today.
EN: You are considering leaving the Commonwealth of Independent States. Surely this would be economic suicide given that Russia is a major trading partner?
MS: If we don’t get any benefits from being somewhere we should be very straightforward about that. Unfortunately the CIS is no longer a free trade zone. It’s basically unfree trade, it’s quite an unfair zone because it has visa obstacles, trade obstacles, trade embargoes, our wines have been blocked, our mineral water has been blocked, Ukrainian agricultural exports have been blocked, the same problems were created for Moldova. The CIS is no longer used well as a forum because most of the meetings look more like old-style apparatchiks getting together rather than meetings of equal partners.
EN: The de facto Abkhazian leadership has presented a peace plan which sees Georgia and Abkhazia as two independent states and reportedly calls on Tbilisi to apologise for its “policy of war, assimilation and isolation”. What’s your response?
MS: They threw out the whole Georgian population, 300,000 people. Now they say: “We will have a referendum and elections, and firstly we will decide no longer to be in Georgia, and secondly we will not allow anyone back who lived here before.” What kind of cannibal democracy is that?
EN: Does the final status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have to be clear before you enter formal talks on other issues such as refugees and economic cooperation?
MS: I believe we shouldn’t rush to define political elements but first to recognise the principles. And those principles should be based on one main thing: human rights. Human rights are above everything. You cannot throw people out, you cannot take away their property, you cannot punish them for being of a certain ethnicity, and you cannot further legitimise it, and once their rights are respected I am sure we can find an arrangement. My vision is that of Robert Schuman, who said if you cannot attack a problem upfront, you should go around it, create prosperity around it, development around it, democracy around it, and then engage them.
EN: President Saakashvili, thank you very much for speaking to EuroNews.