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Putin’s pre-election “frankness” reveals August War motives

By Ernest Petrosyan
Friday, January 20
Russian Premier Vladimir Putin is becoming more candid as the Russian presidential runoff approaches. “Anti missile deployment has become an agenda issue, so it is not inconsequential for us how close to our borders such systems will be located. Nor is it unimportant for us whether or not they will finally be deployed in Georgia,” said Putin while meeting a group of thirty Russian media editors on January 18.

The “clement” Russian Premier expressed his “concern” over the possibility of anti-missile systems particularly in Georgia. “So what, will we have to aim our offensive weapons at Georgian territory? Can you imagine what a nightmare that would be? But do we have any guarantee that it [deployment of a U.S. missile defence system in Georgia] won’t happen? No,” said Putin, complaining that his Georgian counterparts have refused to find a compromise. “When we were telling our Georgian colleagues ‘let’s do this’, ‘let’s do that’, they declined everything”. He also used the occasion to reproach Georgia for its aggressive actions against South Ossetia back in 2008.

Putin however noted that Russia is ready to find a consensus with Georgian society, “if they want to talk with us”. “By the way, many [in Georgia] want that, including in the Georgian opposition; they came to us, participated in the opening [ceremony] of a memorial to Georgians that had fallen in World War II - [they participated] both in the presentation and opening of this memorial. This is a sign of respect towards the Georgian people on the part of Russia. I am sure it has not gone without being noticed by Georgian society,” said Putin.

No question was asked about Georgia, but Putin himself raised the issue, also mentioning the August 2008 War, when he was asked on an unrelated topic involving Russia’s internal politics. In particular radio station Ekho Moskvy’s editor, Alexei Venediktov, asked Putin whether he was ready to meet with representatives of recently established protest movement League of Voters, comprising a group of Russian intellectuals and celebrities, among others novelist Boris Akunin, a pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili.

In response Putin said that he was ready to meet his opponents, but that they had snubbed his invitation. Ridiculously, Putin suggested that the opposition views of one of the members of the League of Voters, Boris Akunin might be related to his Georgian ethnicity and the August 2008 War. “You know there are various motives based on which people act,” Putin said. “For example, we all love the writer Akunin. He writes very interesting things… As far as I know, he is an ethnic Georgian.”

“I understand that he could not have accepted Russia’s actions during those events and the crisis in the Caucasus, which in substance was the armed conflict between Georgia and Russia, when Russia had to protect South Ossetians and our peacekeepers who were simply being attacked and killed. What should we have done? I am sure that people, including ethnic Georgians living here in Russia and a significant number of Georgians living in Georgia itself, understand the motives behind our actions,” said Putin.

“I deny such accusations that I am an enemy of Russia because I am an “ethnic Georgian”. This is a common Putin libel-light trick. As for my Georgian ethnicity, yes, my father was Georgian, so what? I am a Russian citizen, having been living my entire life in Moscow. If it matters for Putin, it just describes him as a politician and person. Anyway it does not offend me,” said Akunin in response to Putin’s statements.

Such frankness from Putin was not missed by Georgian political analysts. According to expert in Caucasian issues Mamuka Areshidze, “The fact that Vladimir Putin named anti-missile defence systems as a motive for launching war with Georgia in 2008 once again confirmed that Russia had been planning the war for a long time”.

He said that the Russian Government once again acknowledged that it was preparing for the war long ago. “The location of American systems in Georgia was just being discussed at the time and nothing was decided yet,” said Areshidze. “I do not think we can be sure that Russia will not repeat its action and that Georgia can relax in this regard,” Areshidze said.

Political analyst and former Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Zurab Abashidze considers that Russia must find a common language with the Georgian state, which includes the Government, opposition and society.

According to him, talks with only one group in society are not enough for the regulation of state relations. “Finding a common language with the opposition is not enough,” said Abashidze.