Mikheil Saakashvili: Russia's Occupation Won't Last

Article excerpt

Byline: Jerry Guo

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is a troubled darling of the West, a Columbia-trained lawyer now struggling to reassert Georgia's independence after losing the 2008 war with Russia over two disputed territories. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jerry Guo. Excerpts:

The Obama administration has been delinking Georgia from the U.S.-Russia relationship. Do you feel like Georgia is being forgotten?

So far, we've been getting support from Washington. I think it's most encouraging that at every high-level meeting, America has been raising the Georgia issue. Hillary Clinton just described at the last meeting Russia's presence in Georgian regions as "illegal occupation," which is dramatic in diplomatic terms. So I don't agree with the assumption that there is a delinking. Georgia, in fact, has been a testing ground for further improvement between the U.S. and Russia.

Should the U.S. restart its supply of lethal military aid to Georgia?

Leaving Georgia defenseless doesn't help the situation. Georgia can't attack Russia, while a defenseless Georgia is a big temptation for Russia to change our government through military means. Every time [Vladimir] Putin has run for president, he has gone to war before. It looks like he will run for reelection, so of course that worries us. As part of ongoing security cooperation, we hope that the U.S. will help us with defense-weapons capabilities. But I don't think there are clear deadlines for anything here.

How do you propose solving or handling the standoff over the two disputed territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

What we should do is internationalize the withdrawal of Russia's troops. In a democratic society, you allow people to go back to their homes, rather than try to use military force by a big neighbor on a small one. This happened in the 20th century, but they haven't kept any of their territories. …