In a rare display of self-criticism, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili admitted strategic failure in August 2008’s brief war with Russia, saying in an interview published on 20 July that his country’s hopes of joining the EU and NATO were “almost dead”.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Saakashvili said his country’s one-time goals of joining NATO and the EU and reuniting with its two breakaway regions – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – were unlikely to be realised any time soon.
“It’s tragic,” he said. “It means the Russians fought for the right reasons,” Saakashvili is quoted as saying.
Georgia’s president, who is under pressure from the opposition to leave office, indicated that he had downscaled his ambitions. He explained that his plan was to strengthen democracy and ensure a peaceful transition of power when he steps down in 2013.
Saakashvili’s critics accuse him of increased authoritarianism, monopolising the state media for his own ends and using the police to repress protesters.
The Wall Street Journal spoke to Saakashvili ahead of a morale-boosting visit to Georgia by US Vice-President Joe Biden.
In a speech, parts of which were seen by the newspaper’s envoy, Saakashvili pledges to set new local elections, to promise more media space to his adversaries and to offer the opposition seats on some governmental decision-making bodies.
But his adversaries remained sceptical. “It’s all blah, blah, blah,” said opposition leader Levan Gachechiladze, adding: “He has promised things before and there have been no results.”
Opposition leaders described Saakashvili as “part of the problem, not the solution”. They added that they would press Biden to link US financial aid to Saakashvili’s behaviour in order to moderate it.
But most importantly, his opponents want him to call an early election to renew his mandate.
“He hasn’t done what any democratic leader should do after losing 20% of his country’s territory [in a war],” said opposition leader Salome Zourabachvili, insisting that the Georgian president needed to resign.