Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says that Russia's motive in the five-day war with Tbilisi a decade ago was to attack "Georgian statehood," asserting that Moscow was concerned because reforms had made the South Caucasus country a "role model" for others in the region.
Saakashvili spoke with Current Time TV ahead of the 10th anniversary of the August 2008 war, in which Russian forces drove deep into Georgia before pulling back in the wake of a European Union-brokered peace agreement.
After the war, which Tbilisi and Moscow accuse each another of starting, Russia left thousands of troops in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and recognized both as independent countries.
"The objective of the Russian invasion was not only to attack Georgia as a country, but [to attack] Georgian statehood, because Georgian statehood had created problems [for Russia] in the form of successful reforms," Saakashvili told Current Time, a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. He was speaking by Skype from an undisclosed location on July 27.
Saakashvili, who conducted reforms and set Georgia on a firmly pro-Western course after he was swept to power in the Rose Revolution protests of 2003, said that the country had become "a role model" and that Russia "attacked us precisely because we were a role model."
"Unfortunately, the success created envy and nervousness on the side of the master of the Kremlin," he said -- presumably referring to Vladimir Putin, who was serving as Russian prime minister at the time of the war, which occurred three months after the end of his second presidential term. Dmitry Medvedev, now Russia's prime minister, was president at the time.
Russia's Kommersant FM radio station broadcast parts of an interview with Medvedev on August 6 in which he warned of the consequences of Georgia joining NATO.
"It could provoke a terrible conflict. It's not clear why this is needed," the Russian prime minister said.
Before the war, Russian officials had made clear that they vehemently opposed Georgia's efforts to achieve NATO membership under Saakashvili, and relations between the two countries were badly strained over issues including Moscow's support for breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russia contends that Georgia started the war by launching an offensive on the main city in South Ossetia, Tskhinvali. In the interview, Saakashvili reiterated his claim that Russia started it, saying, "Only complete idiots and complete imbeciles can say that Georgia started it."
Saakashvili, 50, was president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013, a year after his party was defeated by the opposition Georgian Dream bloc in parliamentary elections.
Credited with major reforms, he was accused of abusing his power in his later years as president and is now wanted in Georgia after being convicted of abuse of office in connection with a 2006 murder case. He has been sentenced in absentia to three years in prison.
Saakashvili shifted his political career to Ukraine after his presidency ended.
He was brought in by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2015 to head the Odesa region but fell afoul of his friend over corruption allegations and calls for reform and was stripped of his citizenship in July 2017 and now lives abroad.