Nino Burdjanadze: Every person in Georgia has had a very negative reaction concerning what the Russians are doing against Georgia and the Georgian population and the Georgian state. I'm not even speaking about the blockade and the [past] sanctions that Russia decided to put against Georgia, when they banned Georgian wine and Georgian mineral water and Georgian agricultural products, and when they cut all possibilities of cooperating in a normal way. But what they're doing now -- this is real xenophobia against Georgians.
I think this is a matter of very serious concern that should have an adequate response from Europe and the entire international community. I think it's really unbelievable that in the 21st century it's possible to deport people only because they are Georgians, and to forbid children to study at school only because of their Georgian origins. So you [and the international community] should react on these issues.
RFE/RL: How do you view the European and U.S. responses to the conflict? Do you have a sense that it's been too mild?
Burdjanadze: We have very serious international support. But I think that all international structures -- the United Nations, the European Union, and European countries -- they should really be more actively involved in all these issues.
The general phrase is that Georgia and Russian should find a "common solution," that they should "cooperate." We know we should cooperate. But how? Can you teach us how to cooperate when Russia is applying a double standard, supporting separatist regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and just trying to maintain its influence over Georgia and Georgian territory, and really putting pressure on the Georgian population living in Russia? And most of these people are living in Russia because they are refugees from these conflict zones in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Sometimes I think some European countries are making their statements very carefully. We understand that Russia is a big country, and that Russia is a source of energy -- gas, oil -- for European countries. But no one on the Georgian side is talking about spoiling relations with Russia or building a new Iron Curtain between Europe and Russia. We're just speaking about a correct response.
But it's time to speak even more loudly, because these latest xenophobic events -- this is an issue that Europe and every country should take very seriously. And Russia should understand that everyone wants to see a successful, predictable, and democratic Russia. But if Russia continues like this -- just violating all civilized and democratic norms -- then every country, despite Russia's energy resources, should react in an adequate way.
Mutual Respect, Not Russophobia
RFE/RL: Georgia has openly called for the closure of Russian military bases in Georgia and for Russian peacekeeping forces to withdraw from South Ossetia and Abkhazia and be replaced by international peacekeepers. The West has so far not committed to sending peacekeepers. Is it realistic to think such a thing will happen?
Burdjanadze: It would be correct for Russia to withdraw from the military bases soon. It would also be correct if they withdraw their peacekeeping forces as soon as possible. I assure you this would only put Russian-Georgian relations on a normal course.
By the way, we never said that we would take a Russophobic attitude toward any international peacekeeping forces that would enter Georgia, and that not a single Russian should take part in it. I think if there is a serious effort and understanding from the Europeans and the United States, then sending international peacekeepers to Georgia is absolutely realistic.
RFE/RL: As the conflict with Russia intensifies, would you still say there is space for negotiation on the Georgian side?
Burdjanadze: Space for negotiation always exists if both sides want to negotiate. Georgia is really ready for negotiations, we are ready for cooperation. But negotiation is only possible when both sides respect each other, both sides respect each other's laws and interests of the other, and both sides want to negotiate.
If Russia changes its policy, and decides to build really normal, civilized, and equal relations with our country, we would always welcome this decision, and we are ready to continue dialogue and find normal, civilized solutions for all these issues. But if Russia continues like this, then of course there will be less and less room for cooperation and negotiation.
Reaction To NATO Expansion
RFE/RL: Georgia recently received Intensified Dialogue status with NATO. Some observers have suggested that this new status emboldened Georgia to act against Russia. Do you think this is the case?
Burdjanadze: What is this tough position Georgia is taking against Russia? To arrest spies who are spying on us? Even if there was no evidence [against the Russian military officers accused of spying on Georgia], Russia had a very civilized way of protesting -- to simply negotiate, to discuss whether there was enough evidence or not. We have enough evidence, and that is why we just gave all this evidence to the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] OSCE to investigate. In any case, a more civilized way would have been to simply discuss the issue. But Russia just wanted to press Georgia, and punish Georgia because of Intensified Dialogue.
Everybody in Russia knew on Friday [September 29] that Mr. [Karel] De Gucht, the foreign minister of Belgium and chairman in office of the OSCE, would be in Tbilisi on Monday [October 2], and that the spies would be handed over to the OSCE that day. Nevertheless, Russia declared these sanctions and blockade two days earlier, on Saturday [September 30]. This shows very well that Russia is just using this as an opportunity to put Georgia under very serious pressure, to create trouble for Georgia, and to punish the Georgian people.
As I have learned, the Lithuanians have apparently just arrested a Russian spy. What will Russia do? Will it blockade this Baltic state? Will it stop diplomatic relations with them? Of course not! Because this is a NATO member country, this is a country which is a member of the European Union. It would be quite difficult to speak to them in the same language Russia uses with the Georgians. What we did was within the framework of international law, within the framework of civilized relations, and we wanted to have the same reaction from Russia.
RFE/RL: Some analysts in Ukraine say this is not only a dispute with Georgia -- that it is also a message to Ukraine to abandon its own NATO ambitions.
Burdjanadze: They're absolutely right. Russia, because of its oil dollars, has the feeling now that everything it does will be excused because Europe is very seriously dependent on Russian energy resources.
Everyone in Europe should understand that Georgia and Ukraine are at the crossroads now. We are in trouble, and we need your support. If there is no support -- if Russia continues like this -- then you [Europe] should know that today it's Georgia, tomorrow it will be Ukraine, the day after tomorrow maybe they will cut gas or energy resources or they will use some kind of energy or other pressure concerning Czechs, or Balts, or other countries.
So you should do everything to put Russia in a civilized framework. To force Russia to be really democratic and predictable -- a success story. This is in everyone's interests. Democracies don't fight with each other like this. We really want to have Russia be a democratic, predictable neighbor.
(RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report.)
A session of Forum 2000 in Prague on October 10, 2005 (RFE/RL)
IDEAS OF OUR TIMES. RFE/RL has a close relationship with Forum 2000, an important global conference of ideas and initiatives. In October 2005, RFE/RL sat down with several Forum 2000 participants to find out more about their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing the modern world.