Georgia Conflict "Geopolitical Catastrophe For Russia" – Opposition


Ekho Moskvy Radio
24 Oct 2008

Economist Andrey Illarionov, a former adviser to Vladimir Putin and
now an outspoken critic of the Russian authorities, has described the
conflict with Georgia as a "geopolitical catastrophe for Russia" since
it destroyed the delicate geopolitical balance that Russia established
in the South Caucasus over two centuries in alliance with Georgia. In
a telephone interview with the Gazprom-owned, editorially independent
Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, Illarionov gave his impressions
from a trip to Georgia and South Ossetia. Describing his visit to
Tskhinvali, Illarionov said that between 5 and 10 per cent of buildings
had been destroyed, but suggested that some of the destruction had
occurred in earlier fighting in the 1990s. He also said that a build-up
of armed forces and military equipment since 2004 had turned South
Ossetia into the most heavily militarized region in the world. The
following is an excerpt from the transcript of Illarionov’s interview
with Sergey Buntman and Mariya Gaydar published on Ekho Moskvy website
on 24 October; subheadings have been inserted editorially:

[Presenter Sergey Buntman] We have Andrey Illarionov on the phone. Good
afternoon, Andrey Nikolayevich.

[Illarionov] Good afternoon.

[Buntman] We are going to speak about South Ossetia and about
Georgia presently. But we have a question about the current economic
situation. The price of Urals [crude oil] is below 60. What does
this signify?

[Passage omitted: Illarionov comments briefly on oil prices.]

[Buntman] Now we return to our topic. Where were you?

[Illarionov] I have been to Tbilisi. Then I travelled through a large
part of Georgia and most of the districts where military operations
took place: to the west of Tbilisi, towards Gori, a rural district near
South Ossetia, South Ossetia itself, Tskhinvali, and then Borjomi,
which was subjected to air raids. I also travelled through Kaspi and
Kareli districts, which were subjected to heavy shelling and where
there was destruction from shelling, as well as the districts occupied
by the Russian troops.

[Presenter Mariya Gaydar] And whom did you meet there?

[Illarionov] I met both the Georgian and South Ossetian leadership.

[Gaydar] Did you meet the Georgian opposition?

[Illarionov] I met representatives of the Georgian opposition,
too. I must say that my meetings with the Georgian opposition were
very productive. Because many in the Georgian opposition do not
agree with many of the approaches that the Georgian authorities
opted for. Communication with them has provided me with very useful
information presented from a somewhat different angle.

[Buntman] Now let us move from the general to the particular. First,
your general impression and then details.

[Illarionov] Since you have asked me whether I met the Georgian
opposition, when I was in Georgia, I met both the authorities and
the opposition. I did not find any opposition in Ossetia though.

[Gaydar] Did you look for them?

[Illarionov] You know, it is quite hard to find anyone at all in
South Ossetia who is not linked with the authorities in some way. In
general, it seems to be rather problematic to detach oneself from the
authorities on the territory of South Ossetia, at least for a visitor.

Most Ossetian civilians said evacuated before conflict broke out

[Gaydar] I almost thought that it was hard to find anyone there at all.

[Illarionov] It is really difficult to find people there, because it
is obvious that the number of people in Tskhinvali and South Ossetia
is considerably smaller than the number of people who apparently lived
there in the past. And according to my very preliminary estimates, the
current population of Tskhinvali is much smaller than the officially
reported figure.

[Gaydar] Do you mean that they had to flee when the military operations
were under way?

[Illarionov] I did not get the impression that it was somehow connected
with the military operations. It is a well-known fact that as of 7
August, 17,000 people had been evacuated from South Ossetia in six days
only. This is official information provided by the Russian Federal
Migration Service. As of early August, according even to official
information, the Ossetian population of all of South Ossetia, which
includes not only Tskhinvali and the surrounding Ossetian villages,
but also a number of other districts, Dzhava and other districts – it
appears that the Ossetian population did not exceed 40,000 people. Out
of South Ossetia’s total population, 17,000 people represents virtually
the entire civilian population.

[Buntman] And where were they evacuated to?

[Illarionov] To the Russian Federation. First and foremost, to the
territory of North Ossetia and the republics of the North Caucasus. But
according to the observations of the Russian journalists who were in
Tskhinvali on 6 and 7 August, 80-90 per cent of the civilian population
had already been evacuated from Tskhinvali and Ossetian villages. In
fact, only the male population of military age remained there.

[Gaydar] Well, but there must have been a reason for the evacuation.

[Illarionov] They adopted a decision and its implementation began on 2
August. This decision was taken in the centre. And for the first time
in the 20-year-long history of the conflict almost the entire civilian
population was evacuated. And this gave rise to serious questions
for the Georgian side. Because never before, including periods of
sporadic military operations and shooting attacks, did the South
Ossetian authorities evacuate the entire civilian population from
the territory of South Ossetia. This operation had been completed
by 7 August, exactly by the evening of 7 August, just when military
operations escalated.

[Buntman] Had the Georgian population been evacuated from South
Ossetia by 7-8 August?

[Illarionov] We have conflicting information about this. At least,
there was no evacuation on such a scale and such an organization
level. Later there were some reports, albeit not thoroughly verified,
that some people were evacuated. But apparently most of the population
in the Georgian enclaves, first and foremost, Kurta and Tamarasheni
to the north of Tskhinvali, were evacuated only on 8, 9 and 10 August.

[Gaydar] And what does it prove?

[Illarionov] It does not prove anything. This is just a piece of
information for all those who would like to know how the events
unfolded, in what order. It is very important to understand who was
making decisions and when. From this perspective, if it does suggest
anything, many observers have no doubt noticed that certain events did
take place in South Ossetia in the first week of August. No reciprocal
events occurred in Georgia then. If anyone is interested, I will draw
attention to the fact that on 1 [August] the civilian population
was evacuated, and on 2 and 3 August mobilization was declared in
the North Caucasus. It was the so-called mobilization of volunteers
and Cossacks to support South Ossetia. Anyone who is familiar with
the organization of military operations, military operation actually
begins when mobilization is declared. The history of WW I and other
wars shows that when mobilization is declared it is extremely difficult
to stop the further progress of military operations. It is actually
almost impossible to do so.

Starting from 3 August, 300 to 1,000 volunteers were arriving in
South Ossetia every night. Those were the volunteers, about whom
the organizers of this movement said, I am quoting: There was no
self-organization, all volunteers were registered in army registration
departments [commissariats] in the republics of the North Caucasus
and were sent to South Ossetia in organized columns. Starting from
4 [August], several Russian special units were deployed in South
Ossetia. On 6 and 7 [August], a large group of Russian journalists
arrived in South Ossetia, too. They were specifically prepared and
aiming to cover a war. Strictly speaking, from late July and especially
in the very first days of August, nearly all Ossetian media had been
abuzz with reports saying that there would be a war and that they were
preparing for the beginning of a war. The main thing was that the 58th
army would not betray them and eventually support them. This was 3, 4,
5, 6 July. You can see respective reports by Osinform [news agency],
the Ossetian radio, South Ossetia’s state committee for information
policy: all these reports were filled with the elevated mood of a
forthcoming war.

[Buntman] Andrey Nikolayevich, what are the sources for all this
information, about evacuation and mobilization, excluding the Internet?

[Illarionov] I must say that I mainly rely on Russian and Ossetian
sources, except for a few cases. I specifically made up my mind to
try to minimize the use of Georgian sources. Along with the Russian
and Ossetian sources, I consult the sources published before the
evening of 7 August.

[Buntman] We received a message: Illarionov seems to speak with regret
that they managed to evacuate most of the population, which meant that
[Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili was unable to achieve his
goal of destroying the population.

[Illarionov] I do not know who felt regret or where. On the contrary, I
think it was very good that the civilian population was evacuated. But
the very fact that –

[Gaydar, interrupting] Good for whom?

[Illarionov, continuing] – the civilian population was evacuated
indicates that if the Russian and South Ossetia authorities really
wanted to save the lives of people living in South Ossetia, this was
not a problem. Because in that case, it would have been possible to
evacuate the entire population and save everyone. And nobody would
have been killed – not at any stage. I think this would be the best
outcome for any conflict, if nobody was killed.

Views of Ossetians on Georgians, Russians

[Gaydar] You met people. Evacuation is a big problem for people. Maybe
people simply did not want to leave. This is a tragedy in itself –
to leave your home, get in a bus and head off somewhere with your
bags and kids.

[Illarionov] I have got a very odd impression from communication
with people in South Ossetia. I understand that it was a relatively
short trip. Of course, I did not meet all the people. And even those
meetings that I had cannot be regarded as a representative survey of
the views of the South Ossetian population. Of course, there are some
specific aspects here.

Nevertheless, summing up everything that was said by different people,
I can clearly detect three key points. They were made by various
people, both ordinary citizens and government officials.

The first point is: we threw Georgians out and occupied their land,
this is very good, now this is our land, the Georgians will not
come back here again. This point was clearly and explicitly made by
several people.

The second point, which was also pretty straighforward, was: it was
very unfortunate that we could not get to Tbilisi.

The third point was linked with the discussion about possible
actions that could be taken in South Ossetia by Russian citizens,
including the Russian military. Some suspicions were voiced that
Russian servicemen might somehow act against the interests of South
Ossetia and its population. The comment was quite clear, and I am
quoting: had the Russians done anything bad here, they would be
massacred. End of quote. I deliberately repeat these words as it is
no secret for anyone, including those people whom I spoke to, that
I am a representative and, in this case, a citizen of the Russian
Federation. They knew that their message would be heard.

Georgian cease-fire offer

[Buntman] We have been asked why Georgia failed to sign an appeal
for the non-use of force?

[Illarionov] What appeal are we talking about?

[Presenter Buntman] I have no idea.

[Illarionov] Lately, I have had to carefully review a great many
documents, which were prepared and made public by both parties. Or
rather, by the four parties: Georgian authorities, Ossetian
authorities, Abkhazian authorities and Russian authorities. And
it is easy to see how often, at least from April to August 2008,
Georgia came up with proposals for peace, for a truce and for a
cease-fire. And how many attempts at brokering peace and starting
peace talks were made by the European Union and other international
mediators. Unfortunately, they were all rejected at the time – in
particular, by Ossetia and Abkhazia. At 1830 [local time] on August
7, after a meeting between Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur
Yakobashvili and the commander of Russian peacekeeping battalion in
Tskhinvali, [Maj-Gen Marat] Kulakhmetov, and upon recommendation for
Kulakhmetov, Georgia decided on a unilateral cease-fire. At 1930,
Saakashvili appeared on TV with an unprecedented speech urging the
Ossetians to cease fire. This speech in Russian has been published,
and anyone who reads it will see that it is an absolutely unique and
unprecedented speech. In this speech, Saakashvili virtually failed
to mention that Ossetia must live in a single state with Georgia. The
only thing he was talking about, the only thing he simply asked for,
and I would even say, begged for, was a cease-fire. That the shooting
would stop. And, honestly speaking, this was not exactly an ordinary
speech for any politician, especially a statesman, the leader of a
country, and especially a Caucasian leader. I think so.

[Gaydar] But, on the other hand, he appealed to the enemy. He did
not urge his own soldiers not to shoot.

[Illarionov] He was not speaking to his troops then. He gave them
an order, which was obeyed from 1830 minimum until 2347, as Georgia
decided to declare a unilateral three-hour cease-fire, which actually
lasted not three, but even four hours. At the same time, however,
Georgia repeatedly reported that, despite the unilateral cease-fire by
Georgia, firing continued from the Ossetian side, or rather was renewed
at 2210. And Georgian military units were suffering losses. Georgian
servicemen said then that they could not even remove their wounded
soldiers from the field and asked Saakashvili to let them resume
firing. Saakashvili resisted for two hours saying: "We have declared
a cease-fire and we cannot violate our commitment."

Reports of third party in conflict area

[Gaydar] Who told this? Who is the source of this information?

[Illarionov] It was told by the Georgian side. Interestingly, the
Ossetian side does not object and does not deny these reports. I
must say it is a really important thing, to which Mariya [Gaydar]
drew our attention. It is really important who makes a statement,
and how the other party comments on it. It turns out that there
are things reported by the opposing sides, some of which are firmly
denied by the other side. And some are not. It would seem that for us,
casual observers, both sides’ statements are equally dangerous, and
sometimes those other statements are even more important [sentence
as received]. But in some circumstances, for example, the opposing
side does not deny statements made by the other side.

I would like to draw your attention to one more thing. Maybe it would
be appropriate to mention here that as a rule neither side, neither
South Ossetia nor Georgia, concealed incidents when they fired at the
other side. They reported this both on and off the record, and for
some of them it was also a source of some… [ellipsis as published],
the evidence of their work and even a source of pride, that they
had fired. In particular, the Ossetian side and South Ossetian media
often reported: We are now firing, firing heavily at the Georgians,
and there must be many corpses, as a South Ossetian journalist said in
her article. And so on. And against this background, there were some
cases, when firing was reported, but both sides – both South Ossetia
and Georgia – firmly denied their involvement. They say that they
did not do it. But the firing did take place. That is why, starting
roughly from 3 August, there were occasional puzzling reports and
talks of a third party’s possible presence in the conflict area.

[Buntman] Who could it be? Martians, or Azerbaijanis, or Turks?

[Illarionov] I do not know. At least, based on the reports that
were made, and such reports about a third party were made by both
the Georgian and the Ossetian side. Because, for example, Georgian
positions come under fire. The Georgians blame the Ossetians for
this, but the Ossetians sincerely, at least as it seems to me, insist
that they have not fired. In some situations, it was the other way
around. There were not many such incidents, but there were some. It
was in the wake of these events, since they started on 2-3 August,
that Georgia made several appeals to Russia urging it to establish
joint Georgian-Russian control over the Roki tunnel and over the
movement of people and forces through the Roki tunnel. The thing is
that large numbers of people were moving through the Roki tunnel every
night, and Georgia made repeated appeals to the Russian authorities
urging them to stop the movement of strange armed men, as they put
it, through the Roki tunnel and establish joint control over the
tunnel. They made several such appeals and were even joined by the US
authorities. Russia never responded. Meanwhile, according to Georgia,
on 6 [August], units of the Federal Border Service occupied not
only the northern end of the Roki tunnel, where they were deployed,
but also its southern end. So of course, Georgia accuses or suspects
that this third party was some unidentified persons who entered the
territory of South Ossetia through the Roki tunnel.

[Buntman] We have a question from Sarmat: What is Illarionov saying? He
is lying when he says that most Georgians were not evacuated until 9,
10, 11 August. They would have been turned into mincemeat, if they had
remained there until 11 August. It was exactly because the Georgians
had already evacuated before August that the Ossetians started to

[Illarionov] I will not comment on such comments. I did not mention 11
[August]. I said that the Georgian population started evacuating on 8,
9, 10 [August]. At least, according to those reports on the evacuation
of Georgian citizens that I saw. Some were leaving on foot along
mountain trails. It did take place. In fact, if I am not mistaken,
168 civilians died according to Georgian sources. If you drive along
the road from Gori to Tskhinvali, you will see Georgian villages and
settlements, where no military operations took place but where there
are burned-down, demolished and blown-up houses. Not all. About three
or five per cent of homes were destroyed there. We were told that these
homes were the homes of Georgian policemen, or Georgian servicemen,
or Georgian teachers. We were told that when this area was occupied
by Russian troops, Ossetian military units came and started destroying
homes picking them according to a list of their owners.

[Passage omitted: Illarionov praises the activity of Georgian
opposition; says it was able to get the Georgian authorities to publish
lists of military casualties; regrets that Russia has not done this;
says that people he met in Georgia and South Ossetia preferred not
to speak about relatives who were killed.]

Information on troop movements available from Russian media

[Buntman] I would like to reply to a man who signed his message as
"editor-in-chief of Ossetian Radio", to which Illarionov refers. He
is asking us to call him. I would like to ask the editor-in-chief of
the Ossetian Radio to send us another SMS, a more specific one: what
the main point is, what, in your opinion, Illarionov said wrong. Next
question. "Ask Illarionov why American satellite surveillance systems
did not register any troop movements through the Roki tunnel, and
he knows?"

[Illarionov] I do not know why some assume that I know how American
satellites work and what they see or do not see.

[Buntman] No, you knew about troop movements and the Americans did not?

[Illarionov] It is not a problem to know about troop movements, because
they were reported by Russian media, by news agencies, and even the
Defence Ministry published regular reports on the Caucasus-2008
military exercises from mid-July to 2 August, when nearly 10,000
soldiers and officers, with a minimum of 700 armoured vehicles,
were practicing manoeuvres in the North Caucasus. However, even after
the manoeuvres ended on 2 August, the troops did not go anywhere and
stayed. Soldiers and officers who took part in those exercises report
that some of the participants in the manoeuvres not only took part
in the manoeuvres in the North Caucasus and not only reached the
mountain passes, as was frequently reported both by the [Russian]
Defence Ministry’s website and by the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, but
even crossed these mountain passes. And some of them were telling
in detail how they "had manoeuvres in South Ossetia". Some of them
said that, "for a week, they were positioned on the hills surrounding
Tskhinvali and saw the firing which hit the area during that week". It
means that all these events took place before 7 August.

[Gaydar] American satellites simply did not read media reports.

[Illarionov] I do not know what American satellites were doing. All
information on these events can be found in Russian newspapers. They
give quite detailed reports about who was doing what, and how. And
casual reports by many of the Russian soldiers and officers show
that, at least for them, there was nothing strange, nothing out of the
ordinary about those events. They obeyed the orders they received. And,
judging from who has been making these reports, at least four units of
the Russian army were deployed in South Ossetia even before 7 August,
including the 135th motorized rifle regiment and the 22nd special
task brigade. There were also some tank units of the Russian regular
forces that first took part in the Caucasus-2008 manoeuvres and then
moved to South Ossetia.

Destruction witnessed in rural Georgia, Tskhinvali

[Buntman] We have one more question here. Have you visited Gori?

[Illarionov] Yes, I did.

[Buntman] [The head of the Russian division of Euronews] Petr Fedorov
stressed many times that video shot in Tskhinvali is still being aired
on television, but commentators say that this is the destroyed city
of Gori, and this is the basis on which public opinions are shaped
across Europe and the USA. What does Gori look like today? Is there
any destruction and what sort is it?

[Illarionov] I did not see any destruction in Gori. Gori is a quite
big city by Georgian standards. It is quite big, quite active, very
dynamic, strategically located on a highway running from Tbilisi
to the western coast. Gori is the starting point of the main road
to Tskhinvali. Gori and its adjacent areas are a traditional modern
place of residence for the Georgian and Ossetian population.

[Passage omitted: comments on history of mixed Georgian-Ossetian
population in central Georgia]

Speaking about destruction, I said that I saw destruction in the rural
Georgian area stretching from Gori to Tskhinvali, and I saw destruction
in Tskhinvali. In Tskhinvali, judging from the streets through which
I happened to drive, between 5 and 10 per cent of buildings were
destroyed, and I mean destroyed. A wall is destroyed in one place,
a roof is destroyed in another place, a house has been burnt down,
but at least my personal impressions correlate quite closely with
UNOSAT pictures showing that about 5 per cent of buildings were
destroyed in Tskhinvali. But the pictures do not always show the
destruction visible on the ground. What stands out is that, unlike
in rural areas, where there were no battles, battles did take place
in Tskhinvali. But what attracts attention is, of course, that the
city is green. The city is full of trees covered with green leaves,
and honestly speaking, I completely fail to understand how battles
could have taken place there if leaves remained on the trees. I
asked the people, who accompanied me, to show me the so-called
Jewish and Armenian quarters in Tskhinvali, as there had been many
reports over the past few months that very heavy battles had taken
place there and that these quarters had been destroyed. I was shown
to these quarters and they are indeed very much destroyed. Only
there is a problem there. The thing is that when you see have recent
destruction, you will see the difference with other destruction. On
the ruins of these destroyed buildings there is a thick layer of dust,
which has accumulated over a rather long period of time. These ruins
are overgrown with weeds that are 1-1.5 metres high. Furthermore,
in many places where houses are destroyed in the Jewish quarter,
in the remains of destroyed homes there are trees that are clearly
several years old. They could hardly have grown up there after August
2008. In other words, at least a large part, if not all, of the Jewish
and Armenian quarters is rather the consequence or the result of
the 1991-92 war, when heavy battles occurred there, too. In general,
this part of the city gives the impression of a long-abandoned area.

Troops, weaponry concentrated in South Ossetia since 2004

[Buntman] [Listener] Mikhail says: "Illarionov’s words have a clear
pro-Georgian bias. The question should be: who opened fire with heavy
weapons? First, they had to be brought to the firing position and
installed there. This could not have been done in one day. It was
evident that Georgia was preparing for a war. And that was why our
troops were deployed near the tunnel and why the civilians on both
sides were evacuated."

[Illarionov] I would not comment on who is biased and how. I believe
that peace is the best solution of the problem, and I brought my peace
proposals both to the leadership of Georgia and to the leadership of
South Ossetia. These proposals concern actions that could have been
taken before and actions that can be taken now. I will not speak
now about who started the war, as quite a lot of information and
publications about this are already available. As for troop movements,
the best source of information here is probably not Georgian, but
Russian and Ossetian media. As for the concentration of troops, arms
and military hardware, Russia and South Ossetia started accumulating
arms and armed forces in South Ossetia already back in May 2004. I
repeat, already back in May 2004. That is, over four years ago before
the recent sharp escalation of the conflict, and such accumulation of
arms and forces turned South Ossetia into the most militarized region
in the modern world. The number of armed forces personnel per 1,000
people was double that of the absolute record holder until 2004,
North Korea. And the number of units of military hardware, tanks,
artillery systems, self-propelled artillery units and Grad missile
launchers per 1,000 people in South Ossetia is between five and
seven times higher than in North Korea. Therefore, the accumulation
of arms and forces in South Ossetia has been going on for over
four years. Officers of the South Ossetian army were undergoing
training in the Russian armed forces. A special South Ossetian
department was established in the Vladikavkaz military academy to
train the appropriate specialists. Since 2005, Russian active-duty
officers have held leading positions in the South Ossetian security
and defence agencies and have occupied posts of defence ministers,
interior ministers, KGB chiefs, emergencies ministers, security council
chairmen, etc., etc., etc. As for the Georgian side, of course, they
were also making the appropriate preparations, there is no doubt about
that. But it appears that they were preparing for a different war. By
all accounts, and as the combat operations demonstrated, they did not
have any feasible plan for retaking South Ossetia. They had a mini-plan
for protection of the Georgian enclave, Kurta and Tamarasheni, and
Georgian troops set off, as was also reported by Russian sources,
including by Russian special envoy Yuriy Popov, on the evening of 7
[August]. When he [Popov] was leaving Tskhinvali that evening, and
there is only one small road there, he saw the Georgian army units
moving in the opposite direction. It was all happening at 1900 [local
time] and soon after 1900 on 7 August. In other words, Georgia really
began to move its units there. But apparently it happened after noon
on August 7, which shows the level of preparation, which is slightly
different from the one gained by the other side over several years.

[Passage omitted: Illarionov says up to citizens of Ukraine and
Georgia whether they join NATO.]

"Geopolitical balance" in South Caucasus said destroyed

[Gaydar] What should to be done?

[Illarionov] As for what should be done, I have to say that
the situation in the Caucasus now is very difficult, has been
very seriously neglected, and I would say that the war that has
just occurred, the Russian-Georgian war is a real geopolitical
catastrophe. This formulation has become popular round here of late. I
would say that if a geopolitical catastrophe has occurred, then it
is a geopolitical catastrophe resulting from the Russian-Georgian
war. A geopolitical catastrophe for Russia.

[Gaydar] But still, what should be done?

[Illarionov] I am answering your question. It is a geopolitical
catastrophe because, for at least two centuries, many generations of
Russian people and Russian authorities had established and maintained
a very fragile and very unstable geopolitical balance in the South
Caucasus, where Georgia was Russia’s key partner and main ally. And
as a result of numerous campaigns over that time, Georgia and
Russia were on the same side, they were allies. After that, in the
course of several months, this geopolitical balance in the Caucusus,
which had been achieved by generations of politicians at the cost
of the blood of dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of people,
was destroyed. And this feeling comes from different sides. You can
simply feel it physically. People are very traumatized because they
understand that everything that had been created for centuries is
now destroyed, and it will be very hard to restore it. I would draw
another analogy. The current situation in the Caucasus reminded or
reminds me, as far as is possible, based on the publications, of the
situation that arose in the Balkans in the early 20th century. Today,
the Caucasus is really in a highly explosive situation, which can
have very serious consequences. That is why, in my opinion, it is
vitally important for all the parties involved in this situation to
do everything possible and impossible to avoid further escalation of
this tense situation, to prevent any further military actions.

[Gaydar] So what needs to be done?

[Illarionov] Unfortunately, I do not think there is much that can be
done right now. Military conflicts like the one that has taken place,
with all this destruction, with many people dead, will not be easily
forgotten. Of course, it was a rather unpleasant experience. When
driving through Georgia, I saw that a large part of what was in
Georgia had been simply destroyed, when Russian troops had been
there. Charred trees flanking the road, stories about explosions and
destruction of railway bridges, about blown-up cement plants, about
bombings of the Borjomi forests, about arrests among the workers who
were engaged in the construction of a motorway between Tbilisi and
Batumi. The question is: why [were they arrested]? Well, apparently,
because they continued to work despite the presence of the other side’s
troops. Such actions have puzzled and continue to puzzle people who
have historically and traditionally been very well-disposed towards
Russia. How can they endure this? How can they can get out of this
state?.. [ellipsis as published] It is very difficult.

First of all, this is the responsibility of the authorities and,
in particular, of the Russian and Georgian authorities, and the
first step must be, of course, to put an end to that belligerent
and insulting rhetoric directed, if we are speaking about Russian
authorities, against the Georgian authorities. Whoever they may be,
they were elected by the Georgian people. And such rhetoric must be
stopped. Also, there is a need to admit the reality, which is often
denied in many statements.

Then, there is a need to comply with the six points of [French
President Nicolas] Sarkozy’s Plan, which have not yet been fulfilled,
for one of the most important points of this plan provides for the
return of Georgian troops to their barracks and for the return of
Russian troops to their pre-7 August 2008 positions. Not only have
the Russian troops not pulled back to these positions, but they also
now occupy, for example, Akhalgori District of South Ossetia. It is
a large district in the southeast of South Ossetia, where there are
no Ossetian settlements, where Ossetians have never lived, there are
no Ossetians there, this district has never been under the control of
[South Ossetian President Eduard] Kokoyty’s administration, none of
its residents holds a Russian passport. What is more, this district
has never even been linked to the outside world by any decent road,
other than a mountain trail. To take over Akhalgori District,
Russian troops had to set off from the territory of South Ossetia,
move on to Gori, go south along the highway and then, from the south,
go north to take over Akhalgori.

A recent comment by Russian Foreign Minister Mr [Sergey] Lavrov
indicated that Russia will never leave from there, Russian troops will
stay there, and this decision and statement fully comply with Sarkozy’s
plan. Quite apart from the fact that this does not correspond to the
plan and that there really were no Russian troops there until 7 August,
in contrast to some other districts of South Ossetia – but if it is
true, then, strictly speaking, it means that the Russian authorities
as represented by their senior state leaders – and in this case it is
not a mere observation, not simply a report by a Georgian spy agency,
and not even Russian officers’ and soldiers’ reports in the media,
but the Russian authorities themselves officially – admit that Russian
armed forces were present in South Ossetia before 7 August [sentence
as received]. And then the question of who started it and who was
the aggressor is officially admitted by Russian state officials.