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Georgian Defense Minister Claims Success In 'Diplomatic War' With Russia

Georgia's Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli (file photo)

Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli says her country is successfully "conducting a diplomatic war" with Russia, but can only reach Tbilisi's "ultimate goal -- the restoration of its territorial integrity" by completing the country's integration with the European Union.

Khidasheli told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview on July 22 that while "Russia is losing all of its bridgeheads" in diplomatic circles, "Georgia is gaining new friends."

She said Georgia will continue to "move gradually towards European integration, and no provocation can stop or slow this process."

Khidasheli also said "no one has any illusions about Russia," and that "no one in the world today thinks of Russia as a partner."

Accusing Russian military forces of "occupation" in Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Khidasheli said Tbilisi expected that "Russian soldiers themselves" will restore the borders of Georgia to their 1992 positions after the country's integration into the "European family."

Russian troops have remained in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, backing the self-proclaimed governments there, since the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Khidasheli had no kind words for former Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili, who renounced his citizenship in Georgia to accept an appointment as Governor of Odesa in Ukraine in May.

While Saakashvili may be popular in Ukraine, where he marched along with supporters of President Petro Poroshenko in the Maidan rallies and riots that overthrew a Russian-backed government there, he is still vilified in his own country, where he is wanted on a number of criminal charges, including embezzlement, abuse of power, and crackdowns on political opposition.

Saakashvili left Georgia days before his second presidential term expired in November 2013, and has been in self-imposed exile ever since.

Khidasheli accused Saakashvili of making "completely unacceptable" and "abusive" statements about Georgia since taking office in Ukraine, and she questioned whether those statements represent the views of the Ukrainian government.

Poroshenko reportedly picked Saakashvili to be Odesa's governor because he admires the changes Saakashvili implemented early in his tenure as Georgia's president. Upon assuming office, Saakashvili famously fired all 30,000 of Georgia's notoriously corrupt traffic police.

Saakashvili also implemented a heavy dose of market reforms, focusing on a sweeping deregulatory program that kick-started Georgia's economy. Georgia is now 15th on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index — well ahead of Ukraine, which is way down at 96th.

With Ukrainians hungry for results and the government's popularity falling, Poroshenko appears to be counting on Saakashvili duplicating his Georgian success in Odesa.

But Khidasheli portrayed the Saakashvili years in Georgia quite negatively, even "horrible" and "disastrous."

She said he "stole elections" twice and had to finally leave the country because he knew the whole country was prepared to vote against him in a third election.

He "introduced torture and rape as a matter of everyday life in prisons in Georgia" and "used the state budget as his own pocket money for his own pleasure and ambitions" while "firing" or "arresting everybody around," she said.

Ukraine's admiration of Saakashvili thus is misplaced, she said.

"Just because someone speaks loud against Putin does not make him a democrat and brilliant," she said. "There is a major misunderstanding about that."

Still, she said hopes Saakashvili is successful at bringing the reforms Ukraine wants.

"I hope you will manage with him in a less disastrous manner than Georgia went through those eight horrible years" he was in office, she said.

With reporting by Moscow Times
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