Saakashvili Vows Georgia to Control Separatist Regions(Abkhazia and South Ossetia) by 2013

January 23, 2009

By Helena Bedwell

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili vowed within four years to restore control over two separatist regions that Russia recognized as independent states after a war with Georgia in August.

“My government will do everything possible to resolve the issue of Georgia’s territorial integrity by 2013, the end of my term as president,” Saakashvili said. “It seems we’re alone, fighting a big, old rusty imperial machine, but we’ll do all we can. I’m here. I’m not going to die or resign any time soon.”

Saakashvili spoke for more than four hours in his first call-in show on Georgian television. About 5,000 people submitted questions, and the program was broadcast live on all major television channels.

Russia routed Georgia’s army in the five-day war over separatist South Ossetia, and later recognized its independence along with that of another breakaway region, Abkhazia, a move decried by the U.S. and many European countries. Russia plans to deploy about 3,700 soldiers in each region.

The president said Russia was unlikely to attack Georgia again because of its deepening economic problems. “But the risk remains as long as the current government remains in power” in Moscow “and they remain on our territory.”

Opposition leaders including former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, now living in France, have criticized Saakashvili for mistakes that led to the war. Nino Burjanadze, a former Saakashvili ally and speaker of Georgia’s parliament, has called for early elections.

‘Major Flaws’

A Georgian parliamentary commission found “major flaws” in the government’s handling of the war, while charging that Russia planned in advance to attack.

Human Rights Watch said today that Georgia and Russia both violated the laws of war during the conflict, killing civilians, torturing prisoners and looting villages.

The conflict caused $1 billion of damage to Georgia’s economy and forced about 130,000 people from their homes, according to the government. Georgia won pledges of $4.55 billion in international aid to rebuild its economy and resettle refugees, led by a $1 billion offer from the U.S.

Saakashvili said the economy, which probably grew 2 percent to $12.5 billion in 2008 after 12.4 percent expansion a year earlier, had been “minimally” affected by the global financial crisis. He said the financial system is “stable,” especially when compared with Georgia’s neighbors.

The president unveiled new spending programs to boost the economy, including 521 million lari ($313 million) for road building and “heavy” investment in agriculture. He promised that the state would buy 50,000 tonnes of fertilizer from a plant in Rustavi that has fallen on hard times since the war.

Saakashvili also defended the government’s plan to give management control of the 1,300 megawatt Inguri hydropower plant on the border with Abkhazia to Russian utility OAO Inter RAO UES, a proposal that met with sharp criticism from the parliamentary opposition.

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