Interview with Mikheil Saakashvili: Lessons From the Putin WarsPosted: March 1, 2014
Georgia’s former president, who has seen first-hand the sort of trouble the Kremlin is causing in Ukraine, on what to do about Moscow’s threat
For the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Kaminski writes: Between barricades of tires and impromptu memorials to the victims of Ukraine’s revolution, Mikheil Saakashvili stops to pose for pictures and shake hands. “You showed us how to fight Russia,” says a gray-haired man in a camouflage jacket, embracing him on Institutska Street, a front line in last week’s climactic clashes in the capital.
As the former president of the ex-Soviet nation of Georgia, Mr. Saakashvili certainly knows all about confronting Russia and Vladimir Putin. He also lost a chunk of his country in the process. Now he is here in Ukraine, a country he knows well from his youth, to advise its new leaders on how they can revive the economy as well as keep their nation intact from Russian’s potentially crippling intervention.
Mr. Saakashvili studied law and served in the Soviet military in Kiev, altogether for seven years. He has many friends and knows the major politicians, who seek out his advice.
His own rise to power also began with the victory of a youthful street uprising over a corrupt and autocratic post-Soviet leader—Georgia’s Rose Revolution of 2003. Thirty-seven years old at the time, Mr. Saakashvili became the youngest president in Europe. As president, he overhauled Georgia’s government and economy, pushing the country hard westward, along the way making many foes, most perilously Mr. Putin.
Now it’s Ukraine’s turn to face the Russian’s wrath. In response to the downfall of a client in Kiev, the Kremlin has moved swiftly to cleave off the Crimean peninsula and perhaps the eastern border regions of Ukraine. Less than five years ago, Mr. Putin fought a war with Georgia, pledging to hang President Saakashvili by his testicles. Russian troops now occupy the country’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.
By Friday, Crimea’s local government and television station were in the hands of Moscow loyalists. Russian gunmen stood guard at the airports and controlled land crossings into the peninsula. Other reports put Russian special forces on the ground in Ukraine’s eastern border regions and some 2,000 reinforcements were flown into Russia’s Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol, the Crimean port. Back in Kiev, a transitional government barely a day old accused Russia of an “armed invasion.”
“Nobody knows quite what to do here, and it’s really messy,” Mr. Saakashvili says, “and Putin knows exactly what to do.” The Georgian has never hidden his contempt for the Russian leader, but his reading of Mr. Putin has been validated daily as the drama has played out.
“What does he want here? Chaos,” Mr. Saakashvili says. “He has good chances here this time to really chop up Ukraine. It’s going toward big-scale conflict. Big, big internal conflict. He’ll stir up trouble in some of the Ukrainian regions. It’s a very crucial moment. Russia will try to Balkanize Ukraine.”
Here’s how some of the chaos is sown: On Friday afternoon, deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych turned up in Russia, pronouncing himself still in charge. Russian state media is in war-propaganda mode, calling the new leaders in Kiev—many of whom worked with Mr. Putin in the past—”extremists” and “fascists.” In Moscow on Friday, legislators also moved to ease the procedures for outside territories to join Russia.
Mr. Saakashvili’s views of Mr. Putin weren’t always so hostile…Read the rest>>>
Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.
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