Saakashvili: "No single gram of Russia must be left in Georgia"

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13:28 05/04/2006

During his meeting with Kutaisi residents Georgian President Mikhail
Saakashvili addressed with a number of tough statements to Russia
and said that he had instructed the Georgian government to consider
the expediency of Georgia's further membership in the CIS, reports
a REGNUM correspondent. He said that when flying by Tskhinvali
en route to Kutaisi, he got a "Welcome to the Russian Federation"
message from Megaphone, a Russian mobile operator that operates in
the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia. Saakashvili called this
"a classical example of annexation." He also spoke about the ban on
the import of Georgian food in Russia.

"They have put a ban of something we have been selling to Russia for
several decades, something Georgia is homeland to - Georgian wine. Let
alone other products. For example, Kutaisi exported big quantity of
greens to Russia - a business worth several hundreds of millions of
lari - now it has been fully closed, and several hundreds of thousands
of people have been left jobless and with smaller profits," Sakashvili
said. He noted that the goal of this all is "to make Georgia starve"
and to make people rise against their authorities.

He said that some Russian official clearly said this a few days ago -
"I wonder why after all this the Georgian people is not going into the
streets and is not throwing down its government." "Their goal is to
change the government that is the last chance for Georgia to restore
its territorial integrity by peace. I want us all to wake up, to sober
up and to realize what danger we are faced with," Saakashvili said.

"Today we all, irrespective of our political faith, our views, our
origin, are faced with the danger of losing our country, our state,
our independence, our freedom and our future. It is time for all of
us to wake up, to stop petty disputes, intrigues and gossips and to
see what real threats we are facing.

The real threat is that we may lose our country. However, we will not
lose our country because we have already consolidated our state. Last
year we had a 9.5% economic growth - 3.5% more than Russia had - and
in January-March 2006 our preliminary economic growth was 12%-13% --
three times more than in Russia, a country who has oil and gas." At
the same time, Saakashvili reminded that Russia has raised the fuel
price for Georgia, which has forced people to spend more on electricity
and heating.

"Nevertheless, each of us must understand that we will continue our
development, we will continue attracting investments, strengthening
our democracy, making Georgia a successful country. Our only answer to
those people will be a free, successful, rich country, where people
will be happy and united." At the same time, Saakashvili noted that
Georgia wants "a very intensive dialogue" with Russia. "We have no
Russo-phobia or any other critical attitude toward s Russia. We want
friendship with Russia - but with Russia that respects our sovereignty,
that will not close the only Georgian church in the center of Moscow
and will not turn out its parish just because they speak Georgian
- with Russia that will not close Georgian Sunday schools in its
territory just because their pupils speak Georgian - with Russia that
will not create problems on the border."

As an example, Saakashvili told a story about his own family. "A
few days ago my grandmother, who is in a good shape but still
an old woman - went via Russia to an international conference on
allergology and immunology. They at the Moscow airport kept her for
over two hours. They rummaged in her things - she was probably like
a contrabandist -- and then they interrogated her for two hours:
what allergology is and what immunology is. Don't we in Russia
have allergology and immunology? Why are you going abroad? What
kind of professor she was, when she defended her thesis, where she
works, where she lives. In fact, they mocked at her. And this is a
president's grandmother. But there are very many ordinary grandmothers
and grandfathers, ordinary people who are hurt because of senseless,
unclear, unreasoned, simply harmful policy."

"I want us to react to this peacefully, calmly, but with dignity. We
want to continue our consultations with Russia, but, at the same time,
I want everybody to know that we must make certain decisions. In late
1991 Georgia became independent - most countries officially recognized
our independence then even though we had proclaimed it much earlier -
and like the Baltic states, Georgia refused to join the CIS. Later, in
1993, during the Abkhazian tragedy, the impoverished and humiliated
Georgia was forced to join the CIS. I think that even though it
was actually a humiliating act, we have got much profit from our
membership in the CIS. We have preserved our ties with the former
Soviet republics, with most of them we have very tight and very
friendly relations.

We have concluded bilateral agreements, we have established trade
networks, we have ensured free movement of people and personal ties. In
the last years this all has got much more active, and I am very glad
to see Azeris, Armenians, Kazakhs, Byelorussians, Ukrainians coming to
Georgia. It is also important that we have had long partnership with
Russia, our products have been in demand in Russia and this demand
has grown lately. This year Russia ordered twice as much Georgian
wine as a year before. But all this has been blocked by Russia. So,
we should sit down and calculate if it is expedient for us to stay
in the CIS any longer."

"Today, I have instructed the Georgian government to thoroughly
examine and shortly -- in several weeks, two months, at latest -
to report to me whether it is economically expedient for Georgia to
stay in the CIS any longer. If we can still get any profit from it,
we will stay. If, as I suspect, this organization can give us nothing
more but humiliation and insult, the Georgian people, together with
its parliament and government, must make a decision worthy of a nation
having dignity and standing firmly on its feet. At the same time,
we must consult on the issue with all our friends and partners,
including the CIS countries, and coordinate our policy with them."

"We must learn to enter all markets. We will certainly come back to
the Russian market, but as long as the people who are choking us have
an illusion that they are our only way, they will go on squeezing
out our resources to keep us humiliated, infringed and economically
depressed. But as soon as they learn that Georgia has other markets,
that Georgia has actually European and world quality products, we will
have much more ways. We are not going to enter other markets through
the back entrance. We must know that Russia's import wine market is
just half of what the US has and we perfectly know what sympathies
the US has for Georgia today. We must work. I must thank the Russian
government for its big publicity of our wine - for in the last two
weeks the Georgian wine has got as much publicity as it has not got
throughout its three millennium history. I was in Brussels a few days
ago. I walked in the streets and one man told me: I didn't know you
have a wine. That ordinary man read about our wine in a newspaper. All
the world's papers are giving this story, and no one doubts that our
wine was banned not because of pesticides - everybody knows why it
was banned. The Georgian wine is now called a drink of freedom."

Saakashvili also said that the Georgian government has begun
subsidizing the national wine industry. "We have allocated money
for marketing and publicity in Eastern Europe and America - we
have allocated several millions US dollars for that and we will
allocate tens of millions more if we see that this business works
out." "Yesterday the government decided -- and I approved its decision
- to allocate a state credit and to bring a grape processing plant to
produce not only wine but also grape concentrate to be able to procure
the whole wine stuff already this year. My strict order - and I will
personally control its fulfillment - is that no peasant should lose
heart. We must plant grape instead of cutting it. But let's learn
to give good production - not only wine. We must not cut our citrus
plants but must learn to process, pack, make juice and other products
of them. The most important thing is that we must learn to work better
and to advertise better. We must learn to do much in many spheres."

Reverting to the problem of Tbilisi-Moscow relations, Saakashvili
said that he knows "those people." "Even if we kneel, kiss their feet,
swear to be loyal to them for ever, they still won't give us a single
gram of humanity. This is their psychology, their complexes - they
want you to be either their slave or their enemy. Georgia will not
be anybody's slave. Georgia must not be anybody's enemy, and we will
develop good relations with everybody. The Baltic states, Poland,
Hungary - all of them have passed this way. But our way is twice as
hard to pass - because we must pass it and reach Sukhumi. We must pass
i t in such a way that nobody can send us messages from Tskhinvali
saying ' Welcome to Russia.' We must pass it so as no gram of Russia
be left in the territory of Georgia."

"This is the task of not only ethnic Georgians, but the common task of
our Armenians, our Azeris, our Ossetians, our Abkhazians, our Kurds,
our Russians, our Ukrainians. If we take only ethnic Georgians, we
are few, if we take everybody who was born in Georgia, we are over
6 millions worldwide - this is already a force. This is already a
big force - those who are in the country and those who are outside
it." Saakashvili also said that Georgia must be ready for "anything"
and warned that "there will still be provocations." At the same time,
he noted that the Georgian authorities have "specific documentary
information on who is plotting what provocations."