Why call it aggression when Georgia is only defending its borders?

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part B (Russia)
August 12, 2004, Thursday


SOURCE: Kommersant, August 12, 2004, p. 10
by Mikhail Zygar

Question: What have been the results of the Russian-Georgian talks in

Georgy Baramidze: An improved level of trust is the main outcome.
There can be no constructive dialogue without trust.

Question: Your words contradict Georgia’s latest statements somewhat
– concerning the intention to shoot down Russian aircraft.

Georgy Baramidze: Any country would detain a foreign vessel that
sails into its waters and refuses to receive a search party of border
guards. And any country would do everything it can to safeguard its
airspace from trespassers. Actually, Sergei Ivanov and I tried not to
talk of these matters at all.

Question: How is it possible to talk of trust while avoiding a
discussion of actual problems?

Georgy Baramidze: It is not a problem – it is a corollary. We should
get down to the root of the matter. These issues will be resolved
once Russia makes up its mind about what it wants: to rebuild an
empire, or to build a democratic state. We believe that assurances of
Russia’s intention to build a democracy are sincere – which means
Russia should want a democratic and undivided Georgia as well. But if
Russia’s real aim is to build an empire, that would explain what is
happening. We don’t think the current crisis promotes Russia’s
interests in any way. It is just that for the time being,
nationalist, chauvinist, and imperialist forces are getting the upper
hand – they are stronger nowadays in the political, military, and
financial circles.

Question: Let us discuss practical step then. President Mikhail
Saakashvili on his latest visit to the United States got Washington’s
agreement and promise to send new American instructors to Georgia.
And what did Ivanov and you agree on?

Georgy Baramidze: Unlike the previous regime, we are prepared to open
the door for Russian investment in the Georgian economy. The matter
concerns private and state capital alike. Russian capital may
participate in privatization of ordinary economic and strategic
objects. I mean the central pipeline running across Georgia to
Armenia, the electric power network, the Georgian ports. We know that
it poses no threats, on the contrary, it will benefit national
economy and our bilateral relations with Russia.

Question: Have any agreements been reached?

Georgy Baramidze: No, these are only suggestions for the time being.

Question: I find it somewhat odd that defense ministers discuss

Georgy Baramidze: Nothing odd about it, because this is a strategic
matter. Defense ministers handle strategic issues of defense and
security. Whenever economy is apart of these matters, then they
handle the economy too. We all know the Russian approach to the
matter of the bases only recently. Russia was going to pull them out
– not because Georgia was demanding it but because the bases were an
unnecessary drain on the Russian defense budget. Russia already has a
military base in Gyumri, Armenia. It performs all necessary
functions. All the rest are a burden. Their withdrawal is just a
matter of time. And yet, the Russians followed a simple line of
reasoning: if we withdraw the bases, what then we will have there
left? Conflict areas are the only leverage. Wielding civilized
economic influence, however, Russia would have a serious argument in
favor of placing its trust in Georgia. It will mean that Georgia will
be tied to it.

Question: Did you decide on the date of the withdrawal?

Georgy Baramidze: If we do not regard Russia as a potential threat,
the matter of the bases fades into the background. We do not insist
on discussion of the matter anymore because we understand that the
bases will be pulled out sooner or later. At the same time, we are
asking Russia to remove everything it no longer needs. We suggested a
Russian-Georgian Counter-Terrorism Center. It will include
servicemen, armored vehicles, and military hardware. We will share
the burden – military hardware may be Georgian but servicemen Russian
and Georgian alike. They will monitor the situation and instantly
respond to the challenges originating in the republic because we know
what importance Russia attaches to it.

Question: Russia wants written guarantees from Georgia that no bases
of any other countries will appear on its territory when Russian
bases are gone.

Georgy Baramidze: This is not an issue of bilateral relations. If we
are talking to Russia, what do other countries have to do with it? We
have said over and over again that we do not plan to have any other
country establishing bases on the territory of Georgia. We do not
want Russian bases out because we want someone else here. It’s quite
normal I think: we feel that we do not need troops of any foreign
country on our territory. We sincerely say that Georgia doesn’t plan
to have any foreign military bases on its territory.

Question: And what forms will these guarantees take?

Georgy Baramidze: They are not going to be put in writing if that’s
what you mean because this is not a matter of our bilateral
relations. As for the relations between Georgia and NATO, and Georgia
and the United States, we do not plan to severe our contacts and
friendly relations with them. Russia itself enjoys great relations
with the United States and NATO, they are even better than Georgia’s
relations with them. Take a look at the Russian military doctrine and
military security concept. Not one document regards the United States
or NATO as potential threats. Why then are we expected to abandon our
friendship with America?

Question: What does your president wants new American instructors

Georgy Baramidze: Instructors are needed to make a well-trained army.
We also have British, German, and Turkish instructors.

Question: Did you discuss the matter of General Nabzdorov? Is he

Georgy Baramidze: Nabzdorov doesn’t really matter. Sure he is
leaving. We believe that making political statements that Georgia
will allegedly become a part of Georgia is not what officers are for.
So far as we know, Nabzdorov is out to go in for politics. This is
his manner of promoting himself. Pure PR, in other words.
Unfortunately, some part of Russian society is still infatuated with
the idea of restoration of the empire, and such people become
politicians advancing this and similar ideas. Afterwards, they are
going to boast how tough they will have been, and how they will have
defended the empire.

Question: And what about replacement of Internal Troops with units of
the regular army in the international contingent in South Ossetia?

Georgy Baramidze: Scheduled rotation. It was the army first that was
replaced by the Internal Troops. It is the army’s turn again now.

Question: But when units of the regular army replace the Internal
Troops in a problematic area, it sounds like an impending blitzkrieg.

Georgy Baramidze: I don’t know what it sounds like. Everything
depends on how one wants to interpret it. We want a better trained
and disciplined units there. The military has to be replaced or they
become obsessed or something, they develop personal hostility, etc.
We would not want to face these problems there. Moreover, we made a
pause which we think is important. We replaced the contingent only
when tension abated because we did not want undue accusations.

Question: Are you sure that the tension in the relations with South
Ossetia has abated indeed?

Georgy Baramidze: Georgia doesn’t want an armed conflict. We put
forth some peaceful initiatives but no one has responded to them yet.

First, we suggest demilitarization of the conflict area and the
region in general, withdrawal of all armed formations but
peacekeepers and the police – Ossetian and Georgian. All the rest
must be disarmed and disbanded.

Second, we suggest expansion of the OSCE mandate and an increase of
the team of observers first and foremost near the Rok Tunnel through
which military hardware, ordnance, and gunmen come to Georgia from
Russia. These gunmen posture in front of TV cameras and boast that
they have come from Kuban or Caucasus to fight Georgia. Afterwards,
they even run what they call exercises right under the peacekeeping
contingent’s noses. We want it put an end to.

Third, we suggest a direct dialogue. Do you think a country preparing
for a war will put forth initiatives like that? Do you think a
country about to go to war will suggest more observers?

Question: Did you discuss these initiatives with Ivanov? And what did
he say if you did?

Georgy Baramidze: I certainly did. If you ask me, I succeeded in
persuading defense minister of Russia that Georgia doesn’t want a
war. That’s important. As for the initiatives, everything is up to
our foreign ministries.

Question: And yet, Georgia threatens to fire on ships carrying
Russian tourists.

Georgy Baramidze: We only want to protect our maritime borders.
Making the statement, our president only intended to warn everyone
not to let their vessels into Georgian territorial waters without an
inspection by our border guards. There is nothing new about that. We
have already detained several Turkish ships, confiscated them and
sold them to the highest bidder. The authorities of Turkey did not
respond in any manner because Ankara knows that we are acting
according to the law. We opened fire on another Turkish ship not long
ago. I find it strange indeed and Abkhazian separatists and some
Russian politicians rushed to the Turkish smugglers’ defense. Why is
it all right for Russia to defend its borders, but when Georgia does
the same it’s called aggression?

As for tourists in Abkhazia, what are they doing in the conflict zone
in the first place?

Question: There are peacekeepers in the conflict area. There are
peace processes under way.

Georgy Baramidze: No – the conflict area is controlled by the forces
that have removed themselves from peace processes. That’s logic; you
know that cannot be denied or questioned.

Translated by A. Ignatkin