It is five years since Edouard Schevardnadze resigned as President of Georgia.
This former Soviet Foreign Minister during the days of Perestroika is said to have spurred Mikhail Gorbachev into moving towards the re-unification of Germany. In November 2003, Schevardnadze stood down from Georgia’s presidency amid street protests led by the man who now holds the job, Mikhail Saakashvili.
Sergio Cantone, Brussels Correspondent, euronews: Welcome to Euronews. First of all, what is your assessment, according to your experience, of the current situation in Southern Caucasus?
Edouard Shevardnadze, Former Georgian President:There are gas and oil pipelines on Georgian territory, going to Europe from Azerbaijan via Georgia. That is its main strategic function. Probably, the Nabucco gas pipeline project was also planned the same way, linking to the Caspian Sea via Georgia and Azerbaidjan. That is the way it was all planned but we don’t know yet how it will be carried out. Secondly, we were a Russian colony for 200 years, and in that time we became very close.
euronews: Why do think that Russians eventually have recognized the independence of these two republics (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) in Georgia?
Schevardnadze: If we look at it objectively, we should realise that the Russians have a particular interest in Abkhazia. They need access to and from the Black Sea. When Crimea belonged to the Soviet Union, before Khrushchov handed it over to Ukraine, Russia had no problem accessing the Black Sea. There was Odessa, Simpheropol, Ilichevsk, and Sebastopol. Today, they all belong to Ukraine not to Russia. There is no logic in Russia’s wider policy. They did not recognize the independence of Kosovo but they recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If Abkhazia, being a tiny nation with very small territory can be an independent state, then why can’t Chechnya, Bashkiria, Ingushetia, Tatarstan and Dagestan be independent as well? Russia has set a very dangerous precedent for itself.
euronews: So, you definitely think that the European countries are blocked by their own problems of energy supplies.
Schevardnadze: I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. Because European countries do not have enough energy resources to manage without Russia, to lead a normal life, to run normally. But the European Union’s position is shaped by the fact that along with them Georgia, was and still is supported by the United-States.
euronews: The United States is trying to avoid the participation of Russia to the supply chain of oil and gas of the European Union. Don’t you think so?
Schevardnadze:There should be another supplier. There is oil and gas in Azerbaijan but not enough for Europe. It is Russia which has the greatest resources, produces the most energy, and supplies the European market.
euronews: How do you think the Georgian administration, the Georgian government dealt with this crisis, with this challenge?
Schevardnadze: Of course, there was aggression. But it is vital to know who took the first step. The United States are claiming that they had advised the Georgian President not to enter Tskhinvali, I think it was Condoleeza Rice. Perhaps the occupation of Georgia would have happened anyway, but we gave Russia a reason. As far as I know, because I am not in touch with the government, Russia put out information to the Georgians that there were no Russian troops in Tskhinvali and the Roki Tunnel which connects Georgia with South Ossetia and the North Caucasus.
euronews: You declared last August that Georgia must have a role, must play a role as a sort of stabilizing factor between Russia and the West, because of its geographical position…
Schevardnadze: Whether it is neutral or not, Georgia will always have a role because of its geo-politicial position. And after a while – but not right now – it will be able to be an intermediary.
euronews: Was this President Shevarnadze’s idea of Georgia?
Schevardnadze: The first requests to become a member of NATO were made during my presidency. There is one difference. In my time, we were able to have a very good relationship with the United States, they were helping us financially, materially and morally. At the same time, we had a friendly relationship with Russia. Putin and I were almost friends at the time. And Putin worked out many problems in Georgia’s favour.
When you are in a relationship with both countries and you are balancing the relationship between both of them, then other kind of opportunities appear for Georgia. When the United-States decided to help us to build an army, they set up a training army with their own money. 19 experienced specialists came to Georgia. I was the first to tell Putin about it. I told him that despite the fact that the United-States were helping us to set up an army, I guaranteed him that there would never ever be an American miilitary base in Georgia.
euronews: On one hand you say that Russia made a lot of mistakes and now you are saying that you are very close to Putin and Georgia must play this role of being member of NATO, but at the same time to be a sort of stabilizing factor.
Schevardnadze: Today, Russia is our biggest neighbour, and it has enormous resources. So the art of politics and diplomacy consists of finding a common language with Russia despite what happened. If I were President, I would maintain a diplomatic relationship with them.