STRASBOURG -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, in a impassioned speech at the European Parliament on November 23, proposed direct talks with the Kremlin.
"I am, ladies and gentlemen, ready for a deep, comprehensive dialogue with my Russian counterpart," Saakashvili asserted. "We will, of course, continue to participate in the Geneva talks, hoping that our pledge today will persuade the Russian Federation to stop blocking these discussions. But we need a political dialogue to start as well."
Saakashvili said he recognized past mistakes and failures on the Georgian side, which he did not name, and gave reassurances that Georgia would not resort to force, except "in the case of new attacks and invasion of the 80 percent of Georgian territory that remains under the control of the Georgian government."
Saakashvili did call on the EU parliament to qualify the Russian military presence in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as "illegal." He underlined the fact that the two breakaway regions have received practically no international recognition, including none from any other CIS members, aside from Russia.
He said the international community's stance indicates "to the great surprise and the fury of some that the old times are definitely over. It shows that the former captive nations of Soviet times have become strong -- [despite] all the hurdles and problems -- independent states that determine their own policies."
The Georgian president was invited to Strasbourg by the speaker of the European parliament, the Polish conservative Jerzy Buzek, with the agreement of all political factions in the legislature.
Parliamentary sources told RFE/RL that the presence of the Georgian leader in Strasbourg should be seen as a political gesture by the MEPs, some of whom feel Tbilisi was unfairly sidelined by European governments following the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
The fact that Buzek is a Pole, and an important figure in the main center-right parliamentary faction, the European People's Party, is relevant. Since its EU accession in 2004, Poland has been a champion inside the bloc of the rights of the European former Soviet republics in the face of an increasingly assertive Russia.
It's not often that political leaders from outside the EU are invited to address the bloc's parliament.When this happens, the persons invited usually carry a symbolical connotation stretching beyond their function. Thus, the European Parliament invited the chief of the Afghan resistance against the USSR, Ahmed Shah Massoud, in 2001 And in 2008, the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, spoke to the assembly.