View Full Version : Georgian Leader's Ex-Ally Says Warned On Ossetia

09-06-2008, 08:20 AM
Georgian leader's ex-ally says warned on Ossetia


Published: Friday September 5, 2008

NEW YORK - A prominent Georgian opposition figure said on Friday she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili against military action in South Ossetia a few days before he sent troops there, sparking a Russian invasion.

Former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze told Reuters the government would have to answer "difficult questions" once peace is restored, including whether it could have avoided the war that crushed Georgia's military.

Hundreds were killed and thousands displaced in a five-day war last month when Moscow sent tanks and troops deep into Georgian territory to prevent what it called genocide after Tbilisi attempted to retake the pro-Russian province.

The Kremlin subsequently recognized South Ossetia and a second rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states, drawing strong condemnation from the United States and Europe.

Burjanadze co-authored Georgia's 2003 "Rose Revolution" with Saakashvili, but then broke with him earlier this year. She has said she may form a new political party once peace is restored and some analysts say she could emerge as a powerful rival to the president.

In an interview after speaking at Columbia University in New York, Burjanadze said the immediate priority was for Russia to withdraw its troops and for Georgians to be united, but at some point the government would face "difficult questions."

"A few days before the crisis ... I met the president," Burjanadze said. "I expressed my views and my vision. I was sure that Russia will attack if there will be any kind of military action from the Georgian side, and I saw that Russia wanted to provoke Georgia," she said.

"I always thought there is no military solution for Ossetia and Abkhazia because Russia will fight, Russia will send troops, Russia will send arms, Russia will send aircraft."

When Saakashvili sent troops to South Ossetia a few days later and Russia responded, she said she knew the crisis would not have a short-term solution. "I understood that it's a real disaster for my country," she said.

She said it was too soon to say if the crisis could have been avoided. "I need serious analysis. I need answers to the questions." Asked what would happen if it does turn out to have been avoidable, she said: "In this case, I don't wish to be in the place of the government."

The Russian offensive disrupted the Georgian economy and transport system and potentially dealt a blow to its hopes of joining NATO. Russian troops continue to occupy "security zones" in Georgia despite a French-brokered peace deal.

In her speech, Burjanadze said Russia was trying to change the political map of the Caucasus and "establish a new world order" of military power over the rule of law.

She said Georgia had been "dragged" into conflict with the de-facto leadership of South Ossetia and that was followed by "open aggression" from Russia. She said the crisis had shown Georgian society across the political spectrum was united in protecting Georgia's statehood and territorial integrity.

"However, we, the Georgian people, do not consider the government as victims only and, of course, the time will come for a sober assessment of what went wrong in Georgia."

The EU and the United States have condemned Moscow's actions as disproportionate, but some Western officials were dismayed by Saakashvili's attempt to solve the long-stalemated dispute with military force.

Georgia's leaders say they sent their forces into South Ossetia after what they called repeated armed provocations by Russia and its separatist allies.

Saakashvili, a U.S.-educated lawyer, was a darling of the West after the 2003 "Rose Revolution," but his rough treatment of opponents last November and harsh anti-Russian rhetoric was raising concerns among allies even before this crisis.

EU leaders warned the Kremlin this week they could postpone talks due this month on an EU-Russia partnership pact, but avoided tougher sanctions amid internal divisions on how to deal with Europe's largest energy supplier.

Burjanadze, who split with Saakashvili early this year, said it was too soon to talk about his political future. "I can say it's very difficult to imagine a good position for the president of a country that has such big problems," she said. "I don't think that he feels himself comfortable and well or stronger than he was before."