Russia, Georgia remain in distrustful deadlock on anniversary of 2008 war
The US Senate this week called on Russia to stop its 'occupation' of two breakaway enclaves that were once part of Georgia. But both sides appear to be hardening their positions.
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More ominously, Mr. Medvedev also revived the old Russian suspicion that the US may have encouraged Georgia to attack South Ossetia. "I don’t believe the Americans had urged Georgia’s president to invade. But I do believe that there were certain subtleties and certain hints made, which could have effectively fed Saakashvili’s hopes that the Americans would back him in any conflict," Medvedev said.Skip to next paragraph
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'I will never forgive him' – Medvedev
The view from Tbilisi is that, despite its swift defeat, Georgia withstood the might of giant Russia in the conflict and proved that it made the right choice by turning away from Moscow and toward the West in the 2003 "Rose Revolution," which brought Mr. Saakashvili to power.
But for Russians, who triumphed over a pesky pro-West neighbor, the attitude is that Saakashvili is an illegitimate leader, perhaps a puppet of US interests, and that no meaningful peace negotiations can occur until he has gone.
But Russia can never be reconciled with Georgia as long as Saakashvili remains president, he said.
Though early Russian claims of Georgian "genocide" against South Ossetians have been thoroughly debunked by international human rights monitors, Mr. Medvedev still holds Saakashvili responsible for "hundreds" of Russian deaths, including those of peacekeepers.
"I will never forgive him for that, and I will not talk to him," said the Russian president. Saakashvili will have to leave, perhaps democratically, perhaps not, he added.
"And whoever becomes the next president in Georgia, they will have a chance to restore positive and beneficial relations with Russia," said Medvedev.
Saakashvili remains popular at home. He was reelected to a second five-year term in early 2008, and received another thumping endorsement from Georgians a year ago when his ruling United National Movement won over 60 percent of the votes in regional elections.
But Georgian leaders have blamed Russia for orchestrating periodic unrest in Georgia, including a wave of Tbilisi street demonstrations this spring. They also claim that Moscow runs secret networks of spies and terrorists that included Saakashvili's personal photographer, who was arrested with several other journalists and charged with espionage in July.
"We know that Russian secret services are active around the world, and Georgia is very high on Moscow's list of enemies," says Shota Utiashvili, spokesman for Georgia's Interior Ministry, which oversees the police. "Some people want to close their eyes to this, but there are [pro-Russian underground] networks operating here that we know of, and probably some we don't know of. It's ridiculous to deny that there are Russian agents working here, or that Georgia is capable of catching some of them."
Russian officials counter that Saakashvili's government is gripped by "spy mania" that is largely detached from reality. They point to episodes like last year's fictitious documentary about a new Russian invasion of Georgia, presented on pro-government TV as if it were real news, which caused Georgian cellphone networks to crash and saw thousand of people pouring into the streets in panic.