8 august, 2009 18:16  

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took questions from the press regarding the one year anniversary of Georgia's attack on South Ossetia


"We spoke with the current Georgian leadership on many occasions. I personally urged them to be patient, and win the respect, esteem and trust of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That is the only way that territorial integrity can be achieved. That is what I said then, and what I believe now to be the case."

Vladimir Putin Q&A session on the anniversary of Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia

Question: Mr Putin, one year ago Georgia undertook an act of aggression against South Ossetia. How does remembering this date make you feel? And what changes have there been in the region, following the measures Russia took to defend the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Vladimir Putin: When we remember those tragic events we think first of all about the victims. We think about why it was possible. And of course we analyse these events, and draw conclusions.

It is clear to me that it is most important that no such tragedy ever happens again. That means those people who make these kinds of decisions have a duty to take into account the opinions of the people who live in the territory concerned. No question of government can be resolved without their liberty, without the will of the people, without taking their desires into account. And this is precisely what the current Georgian administration has forgotten.

Abkhazia is familiar with Russia's position on this conflict, on how relations developed prior to it. There's no point denying it, you know how many times and in how many ways both South Ossetia and Abkhazia came to Russia with either their request to join the Russian Federation, or for their independence to be acknowledged. Russia acted entirely rationally and very carefully. Because we always started from one of the fundamental principles of international law: a state's territorial integrity. But for the territorial integrity of Georgia to be preserved following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia needed to be treated with respect.

The reality of the situation must be understood and dealt with. And that reality has been built up over centuries. Georgia became part of the Russian Empire, after all, if my memory serves, as early as 1783. While Abkhazia joined Russia almost thirty years later, in 1810 as an independent state, as an independent principality. And it was only then after becoming part of a common state, did the country join Georgia.

And we all well know that throughout all those centuries, all those decades, relations were not easy. Unfortunately, there were inter-ethnic disputes. If the current Georgian administration had wanted to preserve that unified state in these new conditions, then it should have respected the Abkhaz people, and the people of South Ossetia. They should have acknowledged their past mistakes and worked to rectify them.

We spoke with the current Georgian administration on many occasions. I personally urged them to be patient, and to win the respect, esteem and trust of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That is the only way that territorial integrity can be achieved, that is what I said then, and what I believe now to be the case.

How did they respond? "Yes, we understand that, that's what we will do."

But what did they do in reality? The exact opposite. The exact opposite: military pressure, stripping them of their autonomous rights, and finally - aggression. A crime which caused numerous victims among the civilian population, and the Home Guard.

Naturally, Russia did not have the right to abandon either South Ossetia or Abkhazia in this tragedy. Russia could not do that, and so took the only correct decision to defend the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and to recognise their independence.

But after that, I think, the situation stabilised. It is more clear-cut, a lot more clear-cut, more straightforward and comprehensible. The established legislative framework allows us to develop our relations with Abkhazia and with South Ossetia as independent states, without paying any attention to anyone who doesn't like it. And those are the foundations on which relations can be built in economic development and the social sphere, developing interstate relations, and ensuring stability and security.

We will act to those ends within the framework of existing agreements and treaties. And in the very near future, and already now, the legal foundations of our cooperation are being strengthened: We have prepared about 40 agreements with Abkhazia on various areas of co-operation. I am confident that this will work well in the benefit of the peoples of Abkhazia and Russia.

Question: So, does what you said exclude any repeat of the events of last August?

Vladimir Putin: We have to be prepared for anything from the current Georgian administration. But now it will be a great deal more difficult for them. And, if they have managed to learn anything, then these recent events, the events of last August, should have taught them that it is futile to negotiate through force.

But despite everything, as you are aware, our friendship and cooperation treaty includes an agreement on military aid. Russia will station its armed forces on Abkhaz territory. We will take all necessary efforts to ensure that, together with the relevant Abkhaz agencies, we set up a modern, defended, border. All this is in addition to the serious security guarantees for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.