GEORGIAN President Zviad Gamsakhurdia spoke to the Monitor on March 21.
What result do you expect from Georgia's March 31 independence referendum?
Among the six republics that boycotted the national referendum on Soviet unity [March 17], Georgia is the most active in showing Moscow it wants independence.
The republic's referendum on Sunday will show Moscow that the Georgian people, and a great majority of the non-Georgian population here, want independence.
How soon can independence be realized?
It will take years. It depends on the fate of the empire and if it disintegrates.
Do you expect the Kremlin to intervene militarily to stop independence?
Everything is possible. The center doesn't want our referendum and our fight for independence. Perhaps the whole Georgian people will defend themselves. It may be a small Afghanistan.
You spoke recently with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on the telephone. How did it go?
He wants only his will to be fulfilled. He demands that we sign the union treaty and be in the Soviet Union and wants to do it by force. He adds that all the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia will continue if I don't sign the union treaty.
What's the Georgian government's stance on South Ossetia?
They [Ossetians] want to create a republic within our republic and we will not allow that.... Moscow has created these extremist forces which fight against our population and our militia.... They are supplied by the Soviet Army with rockets and the most recent weapons.
Is there an end in sight?
It is Moscow's aggression. It will go on as long as the Kremlin exists.
You recently met with United States Secretary of State James Baker III. Do you consider the meeting significant?
It is an encouraging event because American officials never have taken heed of the republics before. They paid attention only to the center. Now, I think there is a new American policy because they see that real reforms in the USSR are unimaginable without the republics. He said the secession law will be improved. I invited him to visit Georgia and he agreed.
You have often been accused of being a fascist. How do you respond?
It is a lie. Kremlin agents spread these lies.