Ivanishvili: We Started the War with South Ossetia
Georgia's billionaire/politician Bidzina Ivanishvili has given his first press conference in which he expanded on his views on defense and foreign policy, which have been the matter of some speculation since he entered the political arena.
He reiterated, but in stronger terms, his previous assessment that it was Georgia, not Russia, who started the war over South Ossetia. From Civil.ge's report:
Citing Tagliavini report, Ivanishvili said that it was Georgia, which had triggered off the August war with Russia. He said that President Saakashvili responded to shelling of Georgian villages in the conflict zone in August, 2008 with “absolute recklessness by shelling Tskhinvali.”
He also cited a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) and said that both the resolution, supported by the Georgian delegation, and Tagliavini report were saying that Georgia started the war. He was apparently refereeing to the PACE’s October, 2008 resolution, which at the time was at the time became an issue for debates in the Georgian politics.
“Everyone in the world knows everything very well. [The Georgian authorities] are trying to mislead the Georgian population; Saakashvili’s [version] is: Russia’s started the war and we have won it… We should learn to face the truth,” he said.
I'll be very curious to see how that goes over in Georgia.
However, if Georgia's Western allies are wondering whether he would continue Tbilisi's strong partnership with them, Ivanishvili said he would maintain Georgia's troop presence in Afghanistan, but was evasive on the question of NATO membership:
“Through contribution of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq [in 2003-2008] we managed to have small partnership with the United States and with such a big alliance [referring to ISAF]. I think that our [Georgia’s] position in this regard is very interesting and I will do my best to have the partnership with such a big alliance in future too.”
He also added that a decision whether to further increase or downscale Georgian troops’ contribution to ISAF should be made based on a thorough analysis.
Asked whether he would continue process of Georgia’s NATO integration, Ivanishvili responded: “NATO standards definitely require the existence of high democratic institutions in the country. Saakashvili, with his authoritarian inclinations, has actually abolished these [democratic] institutions in Georgia and by doing so has delayed [Georgia’s] NATO chances for a long time.”
That last point may be true, but it doesn't answer the question of how or whether he would continue to seek NATO membership.
The whole press conference apparently took four one and half hours, and took place in Ivanishvili's notorious $50 million hilltop fortress/house, which gave photographers the chance to take some pretty wild shots, which are worth checking out.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.