'We won't be able to be a neutral state'; NATO was the best option for our security; ‘I hope chance to join NATO, wasted by Saakashvili, is not lost forever'; Georgia should become attractive for Abkhazians, Ossetians; ‘Restoring territorial integrity possible, but not in nearest future”
A lengthy interview with Bidzina Ivanishvili, published on October 21, provides more details about what the billionaire, who aspires to come into power, thinks about Georgia's foreign policy and about his views on how to restore Georgia's territorial integrity.
Ivanishvili was interviewed on October 19 by a political commentator and a blogger, Ia Antadze, the one whom Ivanishvili criticized in his written statement for describing President Saakashvili as pro-Western leader.
Below is an English translation of part of the interview in which Ivanishvili speaks of foreign policy issues and about his stance towards the breakaway regions.
Q.: Significant part of our territories is occupied by Russia. Diplomatic relations are cut with Russia. The authorities are so far in vain trying to influence on Russia with the help of the international community. What is substance of your strategy? How do you see prospects for restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity?
A.: It's a very difficult question. I realize that we do not have many options. Options were broader during [late President Zviad] Gamsakhurdia [in early 1990s], but we made mistakes. New mistakes followed during [ex-President Eduard] Shevardnadze; other [mistakes] were added during the third one [referring to President Saakashvili]. Our room for maneuver has further narrowed.
That's how it goes for small countries: some are named as being under the U.S. sphere [of influence] others - under the Russian... We should find our place. Situation is difficult in Georgia in this regard. Our task is to restore territorial integrity and to maximally maintain our freedom.
I would not be right if I tell you that I have a concrete plan on how to regain lost territories and how to do that in the nearest future... Economic crisis forced large states to review relationships [between each other]. Attitudes between the United States and Russia towards each other have changed and will further change; the same is in relations between Europe and Russia.
One thing I know for sure: if we do not have the state based on rule of law and if we fail to become interesting for Abkhazians and Ossetians, if the society is not united and strong, we will fail to achieve our goal. Domestic affairs influence largely on external relations. Georgians themselves are running away from Georgia. No one wants to stay here in the existing conditions. In these conditions how are you going to convince Abkhazians that it's better [to live] with us? If the situation does not change, if they do not see that we have a real democracy here and comfortable environment, if they do not see any incentive, it will be very difficult to talk with them.
Another issue is Russia. One of the hopes - not the only one - is related to having concurrence in interests with Russia. I think that occupation of our territories is stuck even in Russia's throat. If Russia plans to sort out relations with the civilized world, if it plans a progress in this regard, of course the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be like a huge burden for Russia and this [burden] is very well used and will be used by Russia's opponents. It is also dangerous for Russia itself. Caucasus is a very difficult region and concurrence in interests of Russian and Georgian interests is possible.
Q.: What do you think Russia is demanding from Georgia? Is there any concession from Georgia that would satisfy Russia, which at the same time will not harm Georgia's interests?
A.: To say the truth I do not know what we can concede. Independence has always been and will always be supreme. We do not want anything without having freedom; it can not be even questioned. From the economic point of view, probably there is nothing left that might be interesting for Russia.
What has happened [referring to the August war] was terrible for us and it was not profitable for them [Russia] too. I hope they will realize it without my help, but I will also try to convince them in this. Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their current condition is a huge burden for Russia itself. I do not see any other offers for Russia. If something else emerges in the future I will ask the society.
Q.: Do you see yourself quitting the government without restoring the territorial integrity?
A.: Yes of course. I fully realize it. There is a very little probability that it will happen in two-three years; but of course nothing is ruled out.
Q.: What if the process does not move forward at all?
A.: I almost rule it out. We will definitely be able to make the process move forward. I have a strong feeling that some time in the future Abkhazia and South Ossetia will return back to the united Georgia. It will definitely happen in my life time.
Q.: What steps should be made for that to happen?
A.: Firstly - and it is decisive - we should become the democratic state, based on rule of law, attractive state for Abkhazians and Ossetians. The second - concurrence in interests with Russia. The third - advantageous international situation and more support from the democratic states. Combination of these three components is a key to resolving the problem.
Q.: The authorities see strategic partnership with the United States as the most efficient way of protecting the country from external threats. You say that Georgia can find a role that would be acceptable for the U.S., Europe and Russia. Tell us more about this role; what is the role of [Georgia's] accession to NATO in this context? Does this role mean Georgia's neutrality?
A.: I think we won't be able to be a neutral state. In the condition of such a weak state, weak economy no one should expect me saying that I will fight for turning Georgia into a neutral state. Of course NATO has been an ideal option for us and we will continue efforts directed towards [NATO] integration.
NATO would have been the best option for our security, but I do not have an illusion that situation will change fast in this regard. I hope that the chance wasted [by the authorities] in this regard for a long period of time will not be lost forever; we should return to this issue.
Strategic partnership with the United States has a huge importance. This country has done a lot for us and we can only be grateful to the United States. We should try to further deepen relations with this country; first and foremost we should be interesting country for the U.S. We can and should do that.
And of course Russia's factor is important, which is Georgia's largest neighbor; no one can change it and move [Russia] to other place.
Q.: How compatible NATO, Russia, the U.S. and Europe are...
A.: In the context of global politics, rapprochement between NATO and Russia is taking place without us. Serious politicians know this. Process is developing in the direction where these two won't be considering each other as threats. I hope that rapprochement will take place in the global politics and inflexible positions will be softened. It will give us an opportunity to be comfortable for others and to find our secure place.
Q.: Do you think that Mikheil Saakashvili has been and is a good partner for the United States?
A.: At certain point of course the United States was considering Georgia as an interesting precedent in the region where it was possible to accelerate democratic processes. After the Rose Revolution, Americans, like Georgians were in euphoria, expecting something what they wanted to happen. Of course Saakashvili was interesting for them in this regard, like he was for many Georgians. I would make a direct parallel. Americans loved him [Saakashvili] like we did during the Rose Revolution and shortly afterwards. I think that there was the same disillusionment [with Saakashvili] in the United States as here [in Georgia].
What makes Saakashvili special? We will also manage to take into consideration the interests of the biggest state [referring to the U.S.]. What Saakashvili is doing that we won't be able to do? America is a similar victim of its own project - Saakashvili- like we are. Saakashvili is interesting for the United States like he is for us.
Today the interest towards Georgia is very low. The authorities managed to establish lobbyist groups and spent lots of money for that; they have one task - to convince us; outside [Georgia] everyone knows everything; but no one will do anything instead of us.
I think that we should not be a satellite of one particular country; we should further improve ties with the United States, not worsen them. We should further deepen relations with Europe and sort out relations with Russia.
What our government has done is not a policy and I am not saying this only in connection to the [August] war. Before the war they managed to cut actually all kinds of links with Russia; because of Saakashvili's undiplomatic, emotional, reckless and insulting remarks Russian market was closed for Georgia, while the entire world is striving to get into that market. And even after the war no one has sacrificed for us. Everyone tries not to overly upset Russia. [The Georgian authorities] managed that [to upset Russia]. They [the authorities] fail to export wine to Russia and instead are exporting to China; but Chinese do not drink wine.
Q.: So you are in favor of balance.
A.: Yes, we should be interesting for everyone and find the place interesting for us through this. I am sure will manage to do that.