RFE/RL: In an article published in November 2006 you argued that Georgia has become the stage for a "blatant effort at regime change, Russian-style." Do you still view the situation in the same manner?
Richard Holbrooke: I was hopeful that the temperature was going down in Georgia and then last week there was this airplane incident, helicopters attacking. So, I don't know what's going on, I'm not in touch with the people in Georgia right now, but I remain concerned about the situation because they are still blockading some exchanges between Georgia and Russia. They should make this a normal border again.
RFE/RL: You've said that Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili is exactly the type of leader the United States and the European Union should support. What makes you so confident in his abilities?
Holbrooke: My support for Saakashvili is based on what he's achieved. Nobody's perfect and there are certainly problems with Georgia. But when he took over, the country was bankrupt. The electrical system didn't work, the people were stealing the place blind, and government officials weren't even being paid. Now it has growth. It has a balanced budget. It's an amazing achievement. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was American-educated.
RFE/RL: Is the United Nations an effective forum for Georgia to seek solutions for its problems with Russia?
Holbrooke: The UN is not dealing with Georgia very much because the Russians don't want to discuss it at the UN much.
RFE/RL: Is there a possibility for a trade-off, for example, if the United States makes some concessions to Russia on Georgia in the UN, then Russia would go along on issues that are important to Washington, such as the North Korean or Iranian nuclear standoffs?
Holbrooke: I do not believe the United States should or will make concessions about Georgia. I certainly would oppose that. Georgian territorial integrity is important, the Russians should stop supporting the breakaway illegal regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgia should be allowed to develop on its own.
RFE/RL: Regarding Kosovo, will it get independence or not?
Holbrooke: Of course, Kosovo will become independent. It's inevitable. But the Russians are encouraging the hard-liners in Belgrade by opposing the [Martti] Ahtisaari plan and that is very unhelpful. And if the Ahtisaari plan is not approved by the UN Security Council when it comes up for decision next month, there will be violence in Kosovo, and that will be the consequence of Russian actions, and they should be held fully accountable for that if it happens. And in "The New York Times" today [Russian] Ambassador [to the UN] [Vitaly] Churkin is quoted as attacking the Ahtisaari plan and calling for a new mediator to replace Ahtisaari. That is really the wrong thing to do.
RFE/RL: What are the options for Russia with regard to Kosovo?
Holbrooke: I don't think, I hope they won't veto [at the Security Council]. Russia's option, the correct option for Russia is to insist on safeguards for the Serb minority in an independent Kosovo.
President Putin at a Kremlin meeting in April (epa)
PUTIN SPEAKS OUT: During a January press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is a need for "universal principles" to settle "frozen" conflicts in the CIS. His comments came against the background of impending talks on the future status of Kosovo, which many predict will grant it a form of "conditional independence" from Serbia and Montenegro. As an ally of Serbia, Moscow has consistently opposed the idea of Kosovar independence. Putin's remarks suggest he may be shifting his position, but only if the principles applied to Kosovo are also applied to frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. If Kosovo can be granted full independence, he asked, why should we deny the same to Abkhazia and South Ossetia? (more)