TBILISI: Georgian President Says Stronger Economy Key To RegainingAb


Georgian State Television Channel 1, Tbilisi
25 May 04

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has said that “the path of
return to Abkhazia lies through the Georgian economy”. Speaking at a
news briefing in Tbilisi on the evening of 25 May, Saakashvili spoke
about the achievements of his government over the past few months and
said that he intended to increase the size of the Georgian armed forces
to 15,000-16,000 within the next two years. The president noted that
Georgia expected to receive gratis assistance of 1bn lari from the
United States over the next three years to rebuild the country’s key
infrastructure. He also touched on his warm relationship with Russian
President Vladimir Putin. The following is an excerpt from the news
briefing which was broadcast live by the Georgian State Television
on 25 May, with subheadings inserted editorially:

Georgia has achieved a lot since presidential election

(Saakashvili, addressing news briefing) Greetings to all of
you. Tomorrow Georgia will mark its main state holiday, 26 May, the
day of Georgia’s national independence. On such a day, heads of all
countries are supposed to sum up the period since the last celebration
and speak about certain directions (of future activities).

I will deliver a speech tomorrow at the Independence Day parade, and
I will speak about general direction of our country’s development. But
before that, together with our journalists, we will try to analyse what
has happened in Georgia during the past few months. I will briefly
touch on the main issues which we have managed to resolve during the
past four months since I started exercising presidential powers.

Georgia’s main achievement, which was watched with excitement
by the entire world, is that we have demonstrated the highest
level of culture, the highest level of statesmanlike and human
awareness. Nations that are wealthier and more developed than we are
have not reached this level. We have managed to change authorities
peacefully, twice, without bloodshed, without killing people,
without robberies and marauding. It was almost impossible because,
when this sort of change happens even in a very developed country,
it is usually accompanied by negative processes.

In these four months – five months, we have managed to hold
two elections at a level that no-one has ever held in the entire
post-Soviet area except for the Baltic republics. All international
organizations said that these two elections – presidential and
parliamentary elections – were European-level elections. (Passage

During the same period, we have managed to give the Georgian army
a look that is now more like a real army. We will see this at
tomorrow’s parade. We have seen this during the past few months in
(the Ajarian capital) Batumi, where more than 2,000 soldiers have
been patrolling the streets of Batumi, for the last month, without any
serious violation of the law. Armies of much more developed countries
are not able to do this. Television reports are full of examples of
armies misusing their powers, but the Georgian army is able to behave
decently. This is very important. (Passage omitted)

We have also managed to change state symbols. (Points to the Georgian
flag) This is a very beautiful flag, maybe the most beautiful flag
in the world, you should agree with me, this is certainly so. The
Georgian people love it, and foreigners also like it very much. Our
anthem is a very beautiful anthem, maybe one of the best anthems in
Europe. As regards the state emblem, discussions still continue. It
will be demonstrated at tomorrow’s parade as a preliminary draft. Of
course, this emblem is based on our historical traditions, and the
parliament will approve it.

Finally, the main achievement of these months is that we have managed
to start
the process of Georgia’s unification. This has been achieved by
efforts. This has been achieved by the fact that the state is stronger,
that there is a positive dynamic, that our armed forces are more like
real armed forces, that our intelligence and security services have
been working successfully. But the main agent, the main author of
this success, was our people.

The significance of this event is not limited to Georgia. No-one
expected that this kind of conflict in the post-Soviet area could
be resolved at all, let alone resolved peacefully. In spite of bad
forecasts, including forecasts made by Georgians (changes tack) –
I have read many dreadful scenarios. They were saying that the first
president (Gamsakhurdia) lost Tskhinvali (capital of breakaway South
Ossetia), the second president (Shevardnadze) lost Abkhazia, and this
one is losing Ajaria. But we have managed to prove to everyone that
we are different people, that we are different government. In this
respect, this event is of world-wide importance, and it was presented
as such by the world media.

This is an analysis of the past few months. I will now briefly touch
on our plans and then answer your questions.

Strong economy key to regaining Abkhazia

The first and most important issue is the economy. I want to say
that many people – when I am meeting (ethnic Georgian) refugees –
are asking now: when will we return to Abkhazia? When will you
return us to Abkhazia? The path of return to Abkhazia lies through
the Georgian economy. The Georgian economy is created not by the
Georgian government. We can help you, each of you, in creating the
economy. Let us create the economy all together. We will no longer
steal money from you, we will no longer rob you, we will no longer
obstruct you. On the contrary, we will assist you in every way. We
will not allow police to extort money from you, we will not allow
some bureaucrats to harass you, we will not allow anyone to stop you
at customs posts. We are doing our best to establish relations with
other countries and gain export markets. But everything else should
be done by you, our citizens, all together.

My ideology, my concept is that Georgia, the Georgian state should
be created by the Georgian people. This is the main thing. I will
never tell you that I will resolve all your problems, because this is
impossible. We can create a better tax system, a better framework,
but everything else should be done by us. The path of return to
Abkhazia lies through the economy and the revival of the economy.

USA to provide economic assistance

Also, our main task now is to develop infrastructure. We should
mobilize domestic resources. Also, from the United States of America
we are receiving (changes tack) – we have been included in the list
of 16 countries. There are more than 200 countries in the world, and
16 of them have been recognized as the most dynamically developing
countries, and we are one of them. So, we have a chance of receiving an
extra 1bn lari in aid gratis, over a three-year period. This is not
about debts or credits, this is the money simply given as a present.
We should spend this money on roads and power lines, we should spend
this money on things which constitute the country, which create its
main framework.

We also need to accomplish many other tasks. We need rapid reforms in
education, we need social reforms, including pension reform. No matter
how much the state increases salaries (changes tack) – they cannot be
increased significantly unless the pension system is changed. There
are a number of other issues about which I spoke at length at my
meeting with businessmen yesterday.

In short, I want to say one thing: For the first time in many years,
there is a positive dynamic in Georgia. Georgia begins to look like
a state. The people have a feeling of optimism, the people have a
feeling of positive movement. All of us, including our friends
abroad, now hope that Georgia can get back to its feet. Georgia
has strengthened its sovereignty. We now have borders, we are
controlling out territories, we have the most important attributes
of statehood. Now the main thing is not to stop and, gradually,
to turn all of this into benefits for each Georgian family and into
reunification of Georgia. This is our main task.

Now I will be pleased to answer your questions. Rustavi-2, then you,
and then you.

Georgian army to double in size within two years

(Reporter) Rustavi-2 TV company. Mr President, you have already said
that you are going to make a statement about Abkhazia tomorrow, on
26 May. What should we expect? Will you speak about some concrete
plan? Also, some 8,000 soldiers will take part in tomorrow’s
parade. (Passage omitted: words indistinct) Who is the addressee of
this parade?

(Saakashvili) The first thing which we want to demonstrate is that
the state is being created and that no-one can disregard us any
longer. We will demonstrate this equipment (changes tack) – when I
became the president, I was told that eight tanks were operational in
Georgia at that time, and even those eight tanks were not getting
fuel for years. There were two or three operational (military)
aircraft that were flying only when the airliner of my predecessor
(President Shevardnadze) took off from Tbilisi airport, but there
was no combat training. The Georgian army had seven helicopters.

Today we have about 100 pieces of heavy equipment, more than 20
military helicopters and seven aircraft which perform flights on a
permanent basis. We now have combat helicopters. By the end of this
year, we will have several more pieces of combat equipment of this
kind. The army started training, and the people who will take part
in the parade are well-trained people. (Passage omitted)

So, we are bringing these people out in order to demonstrate the
strength of our army. We need to double these forces. My task is to
double the armed forces within the next two years. Not on paper,
like it was in the past when those liars in the defence ministry
had 25,000-30,000 soldiers on their books while there were only
1,500 soldiers in reality. We will really have 15,000-16,000 very
well-trained soldiers who will constitute the best armed force in
the region. I will need two years for this.

Now, people are coming to us and asking: Give us salary of pension
arrears accumulated three or four years ago, the money which
Shevardnadze and his people have stolen. I, as the president, face
this choice: We should either spend all the money only on repayment of
social arrears (changes tack) – I understand this very well, poverty is
my main enemy, and I will do everything to eradicate poverty. However,
on the other hand, if we do this, we will never have an army. We need
the army as well as we need to assist people in need, and we also
need roads and electricity transmission lines. We need all of these.
Therefore, the army is one of the main priorities. (Passage omitted)

As regards Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region (South Ossetia),
our Ossetian fellow citizens and Abkhaz fellow citizens, we will of
course speak about this issue tomorrow. You will see this. However,
when we are asking – when will the refugees return to Abkhazia? –
this may happen tomorrow or this may happen in 20 years, depending
on how much effort we put into this. I think that this will happen
within the term of my presidency. This is the main goal of my life.
But I will not be able to achieve this unless everyone stands by
me. We should have debates, someone may dislike something I have done,
but we should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with respect to the main
issue. And this (return) will happen much earlier than everyone could
expect, earlier than foreigners and our citizens think. But I need
support of every Georgian and every citizen – Azerbaijani, Armenian,
Abkhaz and Ossetian citizen. We will achieve this by our rational
policy, and this will need a strong economy. This is the main thing.
(Passage omitted)

“A new kind of Russia’s policy”

(Unidentified reporter) (Passage omitted: words indistinct) The
prime minister (Zurab Zhvania) has said that the authorities have
already developed a draft granting unprecedented political autonomy
to Abkhazia.

(Saakashvili) We have never made it secret that we are ready for
federation-type relations, for an asymmetric federation. However, we
will not create a federation which will disintegrate Georgia. The
slogans that there should be this sort of relations in Ajaria
(changes tack) – you know that we are going to preserve autonomy there
(changes tack) – or that Georgia’s regionalization should reach the
point when the central authorities would have no levers left at all –
no-one should expect to see this while I am the president.

However, we are going to have talks. Well, if I tell you that there
were some negotiations in Russia (changes tack) – for the time being,
negotiations with Russia on this topic have been progressing with
difficulty. As regards Ajaria, Russia demonstrated its goodwill
and played a positive role, but I should tell you that there was no
(preliminary) agreement there. The scenario was ours, not some scenario
agreed in advance. Perhaps some people in some countries had different
plans, but the situation turned out not as they wanted. However,
in the end, Russia certainly played a significant and positive
role. They provided an aircraft to that man (deposed Ajarian leader
Aslan Abashidze), which was good, and they were judicious enough not
to allow their military base (in Ajaria) to interfere.

We want a kind of cooperation with Russia which, on the one hand, will
enable us to join our efforts in the fight against terrorism. I have
established very warm and normal relations with President Putin. The
basis of these relations is that he is not demanding from me something
I cannot give, he is delicate enough. I also understand that Russia
has its own interests, not only interests at our expense, these are
different things.

Negotiations in Moscow about restructuring (Georgia’s) debts to Russia
were quite difficult too. Fortunately, a compromise has been achieved
today. Initially, their conditions were the same as those accepted in
the past by Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and other former Soviet republics. We
did not agree on these conditions of debt restructuring. We said
that they were not fair. So, after many weeks of negotiations,
(Finance Minister Zurab) Noghaideli yesterday and (Prime Minister
Zurab) Zhvania today finally confirmed that a compromise has been
reached. This is a new kind of Russia’s policy. Of course, we have a
long way to go, but Russia knows the main thing: that we will not give
up our state interests, but we will use maximally flexible approach
in order to create comfortable situation for Russia, so that Russia
faces no threats from the territory of Georgia. Russia should not
have a feeling that we are a hostile state. It is Russia’s right to
demand this. However, on the other hand, we should also feel that
things done by Russia in the past will never happen in Georgia again.

As regards agreements on Abkhazia, I think that, first of all,
this should be a subject of bilateral agreements between us and the
Abkhaz. After that, Russia can play a certain role. In this respect,
we have a lot of work to do. Generally, I think that the process is
developing positively. Let us see what happens. We have completely
different relations now, and let us hope that (changes tack) – a large
group of Russian businessmen will arrive here. It makes no difference
where capital comes from. The main thing is that our people should
be employed and our people should be rich. (Passage omitted)