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26 Feb, 2009 07:04

Eduard Shevardnadze on RT

Together with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev we changed the world 20 years ago, says former Soviet Foreign minister and ex-Georgian President Eduard Shevarnadze in his exclusive interview to RT.

RT: Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Eduard Shevarnadze: Hello to you and thank you for coming all the way here.

RT: You once said history is ruthless.

E.S.: Yes, history truly is a ruthless thing but it also has elements of fairness in it.

RT: Do you think it's been fair towards you?

E.S.: Oh yeah! I think very much so! I was a poor village boy who used to go to school barefoot until eighth grade, and look at the heights I've reached. I was the president of Georgia and I was also the Foreign Minister of the USSR. It's a country that doesn’t exist anymore, but revolutionary changes in world history took place back then and I am proud of the fact they wouldn't have taken place without me and Gorbachev.

RT: About those changes… this is a copy of the 1989 May edition of TIME magazine… and it says that if Gorbachev is the architect of a new way of thinking then Shevardnadze is its main builder. When you guys were changing the world, is this how you imagined it 20 years on?

E.S.: You know… we truly did change the world then… and the main merit goes to Gorbachev. I won’t get tired of saying how much Gorbachev has done for the world: the end of the Cold War; not only normalizing relations with the U.S but also making it a partnership; the reunification of Germany; nuclear disarmament and all that happened when we were there.

RT: You didn't answer my question, when you guys were doing all that, is this how you saw the world in 2009?

E.S.: Well we were thinking differently then. We achieved the goals that I’ve mentioned, and to be quite honest, we couldn’t imagine then that there would be yet another threat, or new signs of a Cold War 20 years later.

RT: Whose fault is it?

E.S.: I guess the politicians are to blame. Not only American politicians but George W. Bush had a big share in it. Even though, it was during his father's presidency that the USSR and the U.S. became friends. But then things happened that shouldn't have. The invasion of Iraq, for example. You know… I devoted a lot of my time and energy to withdrawing the Soviet troops from Afghanistan and now the Americans are in there.

RT: So who is the initiator of this new tension between the US and Russia?

E.S.: America.

RT: You know, some think the August conflict involving Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia was really a war between the US and Russia, where both were trying to show their power and influence, and Georgia was a mere pawn, used in the game to show who’s stronger. What do you think?

E.S.: It's a very complicated question but I can try to answer it. As I've said, the signs of the new Cold War unfortunately appeared and they were initiated by the American side, but I think that now the new president Barack Obama is elected, he will change American foreign policy a great deal. He even said so, and as far as I know, one of his first visits will be to Moscow, to meet the Russian President and then maybe Russia will also change its aggressive policy towards Georgia.

RT: So you’re saying that Russia is pursuing an aggressive line towards Georgia, and that this is a consequence of US foreign policy?

E.S.: On our part a lot of mistakes have been made. I don’t want to praise myself and say that things were good when I was in power in Georgia and that they got worse after I left, but while I was president, I had a great relationship with the US. They were helping us a great deal in training our army, as well as financially and so on… and I also had a friendly relationship. I want to emphasize the word friendly, with the then Russian president, Vladimir Putin whom I had known long before he became president.

RT: What do you call friendly?

E.S.: Mutual understanding, for a start. Putin did many goods things for Georgia then. How and why the latest events took place is a whole different subject. Putin is a man who can be trusted, who always stands by his promises. I can even give you an example… He called me once to ask me whether Russia could build a railroad between Sochi and Sukhumi to get to Samtredia, through which Russia would have links to Tbilisi, Baku, Yerevan and parts of Turkey. He could easily have not asked me and just made a deal with Abkhazia, but back then he didn’t question the territorial integrity of Georgia. I asked in return if he could help Georgian refugees return to at least one of the Georgian villages in the conflict zone. He gave an order to the head of the peacekeeping mission right away, and in three days 65 or 70 thousand Georgian refugees returned unharmed to the Gali region. So this is a man who at least back then always did what he said he would. Another example is when the US decided to help train the Georgian army and fleet, since we had no money for that then. I was the first person to tell Putin about it.

RT: Why did you have to tell him?

E.S.: Because I didn't want him to find out from someone else. I wanted Putin to hear it from me first. So I told him “ you may not like this, but I’ve made the decision that the US will help train the Georgian army and fleet' and indeed he wasn’t very pleased and told me ”Russia could have helped you train your army". To which I told him that I could vow, even in writing, that there would never be an American military base in Georgia, we are just interested in the training for the army.

RT: You know many believe that the Rose revolution happened because Shevardnadze could not decide under whose wing to place Georgia: Russia’s or that of the US. Why do you think the revolution took place?

E.S.: The revolution took place because the youngsters I raised, grew up, became men and wanted to have more than what they already had. Back then Saakashvili was backed by Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze, who has left the government and is now Saakashvili’s opposition.

You were there, filming the parliament session when they burst in and pushed us out. I said then that it was an attempt to overthrow the legitimate government and declared martial law. On my way back to the President’s residence, I was thinking to myself, martial law means blood will be shed. What does it matter whether it's the blood of my supporters or my opponents? They’re all Georgians. When I came home, the first thing my wife said to me was “you know what martial law means. Do you want bloodshed?” I then told her that I had decided from tomorrow I will no longer be President and revoked the martial law. She hugged me and told me“ I have always believed in you. No big deal if you’re no longer president. You weren’t born one.”

RT: Is there one thing that you categorically disagree on with the present Georgian government?

E.S.: Mainly, I disagree with them on their policy towards Russia, because they could have at least kept it the way it was while I was president.

RT: Why didn't they keep it that way?

E.S.: They weren’t prepared to wait. They couldn't find a common language, and an anti- Russian campaign started… The culmination of this campaign was the August conflict that devastated all of Georgia! The consequence was Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the creation of two midget countries. I personally think it was a huge mistake on Moscow’s behalf that could work against Russia too.

RT: So how did things get to this point? Whose fault is it?

E.S.: There were provocations from the Russian side and the Georgian government fell for them. Our fatal mistake was to enter Tskhinval after those provocations.

RT: Well how do you see the future of Russian-Georgian relations after everything that has happened?

E.S.: I told you already that the biggest mistake of the new Georgian government was to cut the thread of friendship that existed between Georgia and Russia. It shouldn't have happened.

RT: Do you think relations could be restored?

E.S.: They have to be. I know that there are some people in Russia, some reactionaries who don’t like Georgia, but these two countries, regardless of many difficult factors, have historically been friends and share the same religion.

RT: You said in August that Barack Obama would win, and with him as US president, many things would change. What role do you think the new American president will play in Russian Georgian relations?

E.S.: I was listening to his inaugural speech. It was brilliant. It was a short speech and in it he placed all the existing world problems and his main message was that America won’t be indifferent to any international issues. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is soon going to Russia to plan and prepare Obama’s visit to the Kremlin, and I think this trip will change many things in relations with Georgia. Obama has expressed negative views on the placement of the AMD system in Eastern Europe. I don’t know if any drastic changes will take place on that issue, but the fact that Obama thinks differently is already good.

RT: Along with the AMD, another sore point for Russia is Georgia’s bid to become a NATO member. Do you blame Russia for not wanting to have a military alliance at its borders?

E.S.: No… I don’t blame them. I understand that it is unacceptable for Russia to have at this point in time an aggressive military bloc like NATO on its borders… even though originally I initiated the idea for Georgia to become a member because I believed, this way, Georgia would be protected from any threat of outside invasion. Now, if NATO takes into consideration Obama's views, if Medvedev and Obama find a way to destroy military threats, then eventually there will come a time where Russia will come to terms with Georgia becoming a NATO member, and maybe one day Russia will become a NATO member as well.

RT: You once said politics is a science.

E.S.: If we are talking about the right kind of politics that creates a climate across the whole world as well as in a country, then yes, it is a science.

RT: Are there things you could not calculate during your career?

E.S.: I do not know a single politician who has not made mistakes. Shevardnadze has made some too.

RT: What are you most proud of from what you've done?

E.S.: As I told you … I’m proud that I had a part in ending the Cold War, in the reunification of Germany, the destruction of nuclear weapons, disarmament… that's on the world stage… but what I am most proud of regardless of the very painful route that I had to take is the fact that I came back to Georgia which was only recognized by three countries in the world, and somehow managed to make an independent, modern country out of it. And even though today it’s torn apart, it’s on the way to democratic development.