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Saakashvili sets out his stall

By David Matsaberidze
Wednesday, September 24
On September 23 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili addressed the UN General Assembly. His speech was scheduled for midnight Tbilisi time, but it had already been made known that Saakashvili would accuse Russia over its August aggression, emphasizing its destructive results. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was expected to respond by justifying the aggressive action taken against Georgia. Speeches by the French, Ukrainian and United States Presidents were also scheduled.

Georgia’s Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili and its Permanent Representative to the UN Irakli Alasania were also expected to attend the Assembly session. The Foreign Minister said it would be one of the most important sessions in the history of the organization. As Tkeshelashvili pointed out, “along with analysis, Georgia will present its political vision as well.”

The content of Saakashvili’s speech can be gleaned from reading a letter published in his name in the Washington Post. In this he says that “Russia's invasion of Georgia strikes at the heart of Western values and our 21st-century system of security. If the international community allows Russia to crush our democratic, independent state, it will be giving carte blanche to authoritarian Governments everywhere. Russia intends to destroy not just a country but an idea.” He stresses in particular the ruthlessness of the regime in Moscow and points various violations of the six-point ceasefire agreement, in particular the blockade of Poti port, the sinking of Georgian vessels and the brutal purges of Georgian villages in South Ossetia, in which women were raped and men executed. “The Russian leadership cannot be trusted – and this hard reality should guide the West's response. Only Western peacekeepers can end the war,” Saakashvili says.

The President of Georgia says that Russia intended to destroy the country’s economy by bombing factories, ports and other vital sites. “Moscow aims to satisfy its imperialist ambitions; to erase one of the few democratic, law-governed states in its vicinity; and, above all, to demolish the post-Cold War system of international relations in Europe. Russia is showing that it can do as it pleases.” Saakashvili blames Russia’s authoritarian leaders for the recent developments, as they do not want their nation or even its borders contaminated by democratic ideas. In a short discourse on recent history, beginning with the 2003 Rose Revolution, Saakashvili points out a number of previous aggressive acts by Russia, such as an economic embargo, border closures and the illegal deportation of thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Russia. “When all that failed to shake the Georgian people's resolve, Russia invaded,” Saakashvili concluded.

The President once again tries to present the actions of his Government as an unavoidable counter measure in his Washington Post letter. “Our Government learned that columns of Russian tanks and troops had crossed Georgia's sovereign borders. The thousands of troops, tanks and artillery amassed on our border are evidence of how long Russia had been planning this aggression.” The Government had no choice but to protect the country from invasion, secure its citizens and stop the bloodshed, Saakashvili concludes. He also points to the drastic contrast between the solution to the conflict offered by the Georgian side, full autonomy for South Ossetia guaranteed by the international community, and Russia’s crude, 19th-century methods. “We had to at least try to protect our people from the invading forces. Any democratic country would have done the same,” Saakashvili stressed.

The President of Georgia is seeking to persuade the international community that Georgia's only fault in this crisis is its wish to be an independent, free and democratic country. He asks what Western nations would do if they were punished for the same aspiration. Summing up, Saakashvili highlighted that Georgia’s fate will be decided by the sincerity of the West's rhetoric about democracy and liberty. “As Georgians come under attack, we must ask: If the West is not with us, who is it with? If the line is not drawn now, when will it be drawn?” He adds that “We cannot allow Georgia to become the first victim of a new world order as imagined by Moscow.”

Before his departure from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “Russia is not going to promote the issue of the war with Georgia at the session of the UN General Assembly.” It is expected that Lavrov will hold over 50 meetings with colleagues from various countries as well as participating in the Assembly session. It has been reported that Russia will demand the withdrawal of the UN mission to Abkhazia at the session, a request that Tbilisi hopes will be either vetoed or not allowed to be tabled in the first place: foreign experts say that whatever Russia’s intention is, Lavrov will have to provide some answers to Saakashvili’s allegations and the questions of the wider community.

Brian Hook, the US Acting Assistant Secretary of State, says that Condoleezza Rice will make a speech to the Assembly on its opening day and participate in the session of UN Foreign Ministers the following day. She may also meet Lavrov, but this is not confirmed.