washingtonpost.com
Georgia-Russia Conflict: The Latest

Vasil Sikharulidze
Georgian Ambassador to the U.S.
Friday, August 15, 2008 3:00 PM

A reluctant Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Friday he signed a cease-fire agreement with Russia and declared in the presence of the chief U.S. diplomat that the West behaved in ways that invited the invasion.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had been assured that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will sign an identical document. The United States says the pact protects the former Soviet republic's interests despite concessions to Moscow.

Georgian Ambassador to the U.S. Vasil Sikharulidze was online Friday, Aug. 15, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the cease-fire agreement.

A transcript follows.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you respond to the charge that Georgia was reckless in attacking South Ossetia, and naive to think the U.S. would come to your aid when Russia counterattacked?

Vasil Sikharulidze: I am pleased to take this question head on: The Russian invasion of my country was a well planned, highly organized military attack that was many months in the making and relied on provocations going back several years.

Since October 2006 Russian attacks against my country include Russian bombings of Georgian villages in Kodori (October 2006 and March 2007), subsequent bombings of a village in South Ossetia in August 2007, and just two months ago a Russian jet fighter shot down a Georgian drone. There were also overflights and reckless bombings of our territory last August.

We anticipated this August that Russia would try another provocation. Shelling of Georgian villages in South Ossetia intensified in the early days of August. It was Georgia that declared a unilateral cease fire and did not respond and we pulled our forces back. It was only when a Russian tank column began to approach our border and the shelling of Georgian villages intensified that the president was forced to act in order to stop the shelling.

Russia never counter attacked---they attacked Georgia.

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Mexico City, Mexico: Does this cease-fire agreement mean that Georgia will be loosing South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Vasil Sikharulidze: Absolutely Not..

The agreement is about a cease fire to end the Russian invasion. Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity over South Ossetia and Ahhkazia is protected by the UN Charter and is recognized by the international community including the US, EU and is reaffirmed by several UN Security Council resolutions.

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Washington, D.C.: Why do you believe Russia is attacking your country?

Vasil Sikharulidze: Russia views Georgia as a thread because of our commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights. Our country's destiny is to be integrated with the West and bridge Europe with Central Asia.

The actions of Russian forces to smash our country, target our civilians, and destroy our infrastructure and ability to defend ourselves is an invasion reminiscent of the Soviet invasion of Finland, Hungary, Czechslovakia, and Afghanistan.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you feel this invasion was an example of Russia resuming the Cold War?

Vasil Sikharulidze: Russia is trying to challenge the free world by attacking its small democratic neighbor. A resurgent Russia that is determined to dominate and control part of the world again as well as challenge the new world order of freedom and democracy.

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San Francisco, Calif.: How far into Georgia are the Russian tanks now? (I mean how far outside the regions in the conflict and into Georgia proper)

Vasil Sikharulidze: The Russians are occupying both Abkhazia, South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region as well as the major cities outside of the conflict zones that include the port of Poti, Gori, Senaki, Zugdidi and have also extended a military presence west and east of Gori. The Russian's are blocking the major east-west highway essentially cutting the country in half.

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washingtonpost.com: The ambassador has been temporarily called away from the discussion; he will return. In the meantime, his spokesperson will be answering questions.

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Arlington, Va.: Given that you say "The Russian invasion of my country was a well planned, highly organized military attack that was many months in the making and relied on provocations going back several years."

Do you believe this invasion came as a surprise to the U.S. government? Had your government expressed any concern to ours over this period building up to the invasion?

Vasil Sikharulidze: This level of Russian aggression was not anticipated by any country of the Free World.

We have for many years expressed concern about the military buildup in the conflict zones near our border, in the conflict zones and the continuous provocations towards Georgia.

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Frederick, Md.: Where has the Georgian army gone? Is there nothing they can do?

Vasil Sikharulidze: Russia has attacked Georgia with overwhelming force by land, sea, air. The Georgian forces were forced to fall back in the face of this overwhelming firepower. It was never Georgia's security strategy to defeat Russia's armed forces given their massive size. The army is now defending the capital city.

It is important to note that Russia has also launched cyber attacks against our country.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you not think that Russia's interest in Georgia has anything to do with the pipeline running through your country that can get Caspian oil out for sale?

Vasil Sikharulidze: It is evident that the alternative for Caspian energy to reach world markets without using Russian pipelines is through Georgia.

Russia has continuously used its energy resources and infrastructure to impose political pressure on its neighbors, Europe.

The invasion of Georgia is meant to force these countries to depend on Russia for the transit of their natural wealth to Europe--and make Europe more heavily dependent on Russia for their energy needs.

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Wilmington, N.C. : Has the humanitarian aid publicized by the media, sent by the U.S. made any difference or is it too early to tell and if the Russians have blocked half of the country that means the west side is lacking? Are other countries helping also? Thank you .

Vasil Sikharulidze: We would like to thank the US for its humanitarian assistance. It is important and critical to relieving the suffering of more than 100,000 additional displaced persons.

Assistance continues to arrive to Tblisi via the USAF. This assistance is being distributed to those who need it. Distribution of this humanitarian aid is complicated to the western and central part of Georgia because the roads are blocked by Russian forces.

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Cumberland, Md.: Why should Abkhazian and S. Ossetians be forced to live under Georgian rule, if they don't want to? The world has looked favorable on granting independence to other ethnic enclaves, why should these two be any different?

Vasil Sikharulidze: Abkahzia and South Ossetia has always been a part of Georgia. This holds true today where UN resolutions reaffirm this fact.

Each conflict is unique. Ethnic cleansing should not be rewarded.

During the war in Abkhazia more than 250,000 ethnic Georgians have been ethnically cleansed and forced out. The current population is roughly 160,000.

During the past several years we have worked hard on a comprehensive peace plan that would give these regions the widest possible political autonomy with full constitutional rights guaranteed by international guarantors.

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Richmond, Va.: Are you disappointed by the Western and European response to the invasion of Georgia? Do you believe that European security organizations are robust enough to deal with incidents such as this?

I assume the U.N. will be useless due to the Russian veto on the Security Council.

Vasil Sikharulidze: We are pleased to see the high level involvement of the French and US and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

We strongly believe that attacks such as this can be deterred by strong European institutions that can hold behavior like this in check.

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Arlington, Va.: This is getting confusing. First you say that Russia attacked because

"Russia views Georgia as a thread because of our commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights. Our country's destiny is to be integrated with the West and bridge Europe with Central Asia."

and then you say

"The invasion of Georgia is meant to force these countries to depend on Russia for the transit of their natural wealth to Europe--and make Europe more heavily dependent on Russia for their energy needs."

Which is it? Frankly, I don't think the first answer makes much sense. It's much more likely a resource war, in my opinion.

Vasil Sikharulidze: Its both.

Russia fears the colored revolutions and delivery of energy (and the wealth and freedom it brings) independent of their control and manipulation.

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Washington, D.C.: Once the cease-fire is fully in place Georgia will obviously face many issues in trying to prevent a repeat invasion. In this situation is Georgia considering an official request for the forward deployment of U.S. military forces, such as a fighter wing for defense and to patrol a "no-fly" zone in the conflict areas. With the idea that a public request would potentially force the U.S. government to act, and prove a deterrent to further Russian attacks?

Vasil Sikharulidze: First..Lets stop the aggression and get the Russians and their surrogates to return home.

Second, once that is accomplished we can work on building new security arrangements with the involvement of the international community--and that means security for everyone including those in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I saw a picture of a tank with a red cross. What's that about?

Vasil Sikharulidze: I am not sure.

I want to thank everyone for participating and the Washington Post for this venue.

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