Interview with Eduard Shevardnadze

In an exclusive interview with RT, Georgia's ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze said it was ‘a big mistake’ of Mikhail Saakashvili to send Georgian forces into Tskhinvali.

RT: Were you surprised by this war?

Eduard Shevarnadze:It surprised everybody, not only me. It surprised everyone because nobody expected that suddenly war would break out, and that this war would involve not only Georgia but other countries as well.

RT: What do you think of President Mikhail Saakashvili’s decision to go into South Ossetia?

E.S.: When Saakashvili made the decision to send Georgian forces into Tskhinvali, I didn’t know about it. Nobody asked me. But if it were up to me, I would never have made that decision. I didn’t approve of that move, and even now I think it was a big mistake of our president.

We already see the consequences. They are grave. Thousands have been killed. Many have been wounded. Many of those who were killed in Tskhinvali haven’t been buried yet.

RT: How do you believe this conflict will affect the future popularity of Mr. Saakashvili and his government?

E.S.: This kind of unsuccessful move never makes a politician more popular. But now that Russia demands that Saakashvili step down and be replaced with somebody else, Russia actually makes him more popular.

RT: There have been claims, which are supported by Russia, of genocide against the South Ossetians. Have you heard anything about this?

E.S.: This catastrophe affected not only Ossetia, but Georgia in general. South Ossetia, Tskhinvali District, isn’t a state. It’s a part of the Georgian territory. The same goes for Abkhazia. Thus, in principle, Saakashvili had the right to send the army to Tskhinvali. However, results of the war make it very clear that the operation was not neither well-founded nor well-prepared.

I think we shouldn’t have started this war at all. I don’t know who is to blame here. I guess the president made the decision without consulting his people first.

RT: Do you believe it is good for Georgia to join NATO and after this conflict, after this war, what do you believe are the chances of Georgia being able to do so?

E.S.: This question has been discussed for a long time and there was a referendum on this issue. Seventy percent of eligible voters said that Georgia should join NATO. This is a decision made not just by Saakashvili or Shevardnadze. I believe anyway Georgia will be part of NATO. It is a European country and it should stay among its kin.

RT: Had Georgia been in NATO, what do you think would have happened this past week?

E.S.: The NATO countries made a big mistake when they considered whether to allow Georgia to join NATO for the first time. They should have made the right decision right then. However, most of the European countries voted against Georgia joining. Had they accepted us then, this war could have been averted.

RT: Do we have a new cold war on our hands, especially now with the U.S. deploying anti-missile defence systems in the Czech Republic and Poland?

E.S.: When Georgia was not accepted to NATO, it was not fair. But today those countries that didn’t accept us to NATO, helped us in this conflict in every way, providing both material and moral support. But at that time they made a big mistake.

If you are trying to make parallels between what happened now and when the Soviet Union sent its forces to Czechoslovakia or to Hungary, well, those actions were not fair from the soviet side as well.

I cannot say that Russia today initiates another cold war. But the fact that radars are being installed in the Czech Republic and Poland is a sign of a new cold war. Radars are similar to nuclear weapons. Russia is fully able to create similar weapons. Today we see all the symptoms of a new cold war, and I, myself, and Gorbachev and other politicians from my generation, all our lives we worked to prevent this cold war from happening again. We have no reason to start this war. The question you’re asking, it’s better to ask our American friends. Yes, they are friends, they supported Georgia in the past, and they support us now, they support us financially and morally but I cannot understand at all why the Americans now have started to put these radars on European territory. I cannot understand it, I just cannot understand their motives. I'm not young and I am a very experienced politician and when I make analysis of their behavior, I cannot see any logical reason why they need this now.

RT: It seems as though the West fears Russia going back to Soviet times. Would you agree with this analysis?

E.S.: Russia is being forced to go back to soviet times. And we are one of those who’s forced them to do it. When we went with our forces to Tskhinvali, why was it necessary to do it now? I don t see any reason why we had to do it now. But what’s happened, you can’t change, and a mistake is a mistake.

RT: You and Gorbachev worked to bring about the end of the cold war. Why do you think it’s coming back now?

E.S.: I don’t know, it’s a very difficult question to answer now. In the time when I and Mr. Gorbachev worked to solve the world’s problems, including the problem of finishing the cold war, we agreed to destroy intermediate-range missiles, like ss-20s, that could strike in the middle of New York. We succeeded to agree to destroy these weapons, and then we started work to reduce conventional weapons. After this, the world became a peaceful place. Germany united, and we solved all the other European problems. I don’t understand why they're installing these new radar systems. Who needs them? They say it’s against Iran, but look where is Iran and where is the Czech republic? If Iran is to be punished, punish it. All the power is in your hands today.

RT: You don’t think that you and Gorbachev’s moves left the impression with the west that you are weak, and that is why we are seeing them behaving like this now?

E.S.: No, we took our decisions together with the west. In the beginning the situation was we have the Soviet Union, very heavily armed and with a very big army, with very big military and scientific potential. And on the other side was the United States of America with the same potential. But me and Gorbachev, at this time, decided no matter what the price, we had to calm down the situation in the world, and make a good relationship with the United States because our moves determined the future for Europe and the world. And I’m proud that in some way I was part of this process. But now they started again all this mess.

RT: How do you see the future relationship between Georgia and Russia?

E.S.: Whatever the price, we have to fix the relationship between Georgia and Russia. Whatever the price. For two centuries we have lived together. It's true that we used to be a Russian colony, but anyway, Russia has done a lot of good things for Georgia.

Many famous Georgian people served the Russian Empire. One of them is Bagration, and there were a lot of Georgian generals who served under Suvorov and Kutuzov. And Georgians were always loyal assistants to Russian Tzars and the Russian generals.

And what I am saying now, I'm going to say for the first time. Georgia is a civilised country, but in its history there were times when it had to sell its children on the Istanbul markets – they were then taken to Egypt. And it was not only boys, but girls too. Their mothers tried to convince them how sweet their lives would be there.

When the Russians came, they banned this slavery. And I can't but say this – that the Russians actually saved Georgia. Why is it, that today America is the only country who has influence on Georgian politics? Do they really need to put us at war with Ossetia? It's logically not right. It was our leaders' decision to do all this aggression. It was exclusively the decision of the Georgian state. And I believe we made a mistake, a very serious mistake.

RT: So why is the relationship so bad today after it was close for so long?

E.S.: You know what mistake the Russian leadership is making when they say they don't want to deal with Saakashvili – that he should resign and only when there is a new president, they will start a new conversation with Georgia? Previously, when the military campaign in Tskhinvali failed, and Georgians subjected Saakashvili to serious criticism, most of the people were against the president. But when Russia began to ask for his resignation, most of the people began to support him. It is the Georgian nature, you have to understand.

RT: Mr. Shevardnadze, thank you very much for joining us here on Russia Today.