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    Lech Kaczyński and Mikheil Saakashvili – Putin in revenge for Tbilisi 

    “Putin is trying to kill anyone who wants to thwart his plans to make Russia an empire again. An empire on the Stalinist model. Today, unfortunately, we already have a whole file of facts that show him as a murderer of those he considers his opponents. Previously, it seemed improbable to many, they preferred not to believe in that what Putin was doing to President Saakashvili and what he had promised him; that he had killed President Kaczynski. However, now that we see what Putin is doing to Ukrainian children, and women, how he is destroying Ukrainian villages and cities, just like he destroyed Aleppo, many have seen what he is capable of,” says Giorgi Baramidze, former Acting Prime Minister of Georgia, Minister of Defence, Interior, Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, now a member of the Georgian Parliament.

    One of the issues you raised during our talks at the Promethean Award gala named after President Lech Kaczyński was what lessons from the Russian invasion of Georgia the world had forgotten before Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2022. I would like to start there because the issue seems extremely important. What lesson is at stake?

    Well, the lesson is quite simple. If Russia is met with a strong military demonstration in response to its aggression, then Putin is in a position to understand what is at stake. He is obviously a cruel man, a terrorist and a murderer, but he is not an idiot. The moment he encounters a force that can potentially defeat him, he backs off. These are the lessons of 2008 because this is exactly the scenario that took place then, quite the opposite happened in the case of Ukraine. It is primarily about US policy towards Russian aggression. Of course, we all appreciate the enormous financial and military assistance of the US to Ukraine. But the facts are clear. The US wanted to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia at all costs. Things were different in Georgia in 2008. Not only did the US not withdraw the soldiers defending the embassy, but 2,000 Georgian soldiers were brought back from Iraq. These soldiers arrived aboard a US military plane, which landed at Tbilisi airport and has remained there. The Russians then turned to the Americans: “Take your plane, because the airport is a legitimate target for Russia to bomb”. The Americans replied: “We will not remove our plane, if you want to bomb, that is your business”. In addition, the US put the two nearest military bases – in Turkey and Romania – on heightened alert, which the Russians immediately found out about. Another thing – after two or three days of hesitation, President Bush made the only right and courageous decision: standing shoulder to shoulder with the Secretaries of Defence and State, he announced the dispatch of the 6th Fleet to the Black Sea with humanitarian aid, specifically water (laughs).

    Did Georgia need water then?

    That was the joke, in a way. Georgia is one of the leading countries in terms of per capita water resources. This was just a pretext; in fact, the departure of the US 6th Fleet towards Georgia was an important signal.

    And Putin knew perfectly what it was about.

    Of course! That, however, is the difference. After February 2022, we did not see the 6th Fleet, for example, around Odessa. As someone who knows what happened in 2008, and as someone who also fought for and in defence of Ukraine, I think it was a mistake that today’s US policy is to avoid such confrontations at all costs. One might ask: why could the US not provide military protection for the grain convoys? After all, ships with grain do not attack anyone and they deliver food to Third World countries. 2008 was a great example of how the US was not afraid to respond to Russian aggression. After all, we are not talking about attacking Russia, but about stopping Russian aggression by the mere threat of confrontation, the consequences of which Russia would have to take upon itself.

    Behind the Biden administration’s policy was the assumption that leaving even one American soldier in Ukraine and a possible Russian attack on him constituted an unnecessary threat of escalation. You, however, believe that it is even a symbolic presence, as in the case of the American plane at Tbilisi airport, that can serve to deter Russia.

    I understand perfectly well the logic of today’s administration. I am just pointing out that in 2008 the US did the opposite, telling Russia and Putin: do you want to bomb the airport? Try it! You’ll see what happens. And Russia did not bomb the airport in 2008. These are the facts I refer to as someone who was in the Georgian government at the time. These are not my speculations or some kind of analysis or prediction. These are pure facts. We managed to stop Russia in 2008, we lost some territory temporarily, but Georgia as a state survived. That didn’t work in 1921, for example, when Soviet Russia attacked democratic Georgia.

    Let us turn to the war in Ukraine. You have been on the front line many times. The Georgian Legion has been fighting in Ukraine from the very beginning.

    Yes, this is just one of the many units in whose ranks Georgians are fighting.

    Do you know the estimated number of Georgians defending Ukraine?

    Here we have those Georgians who were still residents of Ukraine before the war, and those who arrived there after the war began. In total, this number could be between 20 000 and 25 000. In the case of those who came from Georgia, it is about 3 000. However, we do not have exact and official figures, because the current government in Tbilisi is making it very difficult for them Unfortunately, the figures also show that, of all the nationalities fighting in Ukraine, proportionally the Georgians are suffering the highest losses, including among the dead.

    What are the motivations of the Georgians fighting in Ukraine?

    Well, it is quite simple. Our people understand that a victory for Ukraine can enable a victory for Georgia, the liberation of Georgia from Russian influence. This could be a victory for the whole of Europe, depending on how hard Putin’s army can be weakened. Georgia was the first target of the attack by Putin, who has now attacked Ukraine, so we are fighting against our common enemy. That is why Georgians are dying in Ukraine and their parents say they died for Georgia. For us, this is perfectly clear. It is impossible to separate the victory of Ukraine and the victory of Georgia, they share a common fate and a common future in the European Union and NATO.

    You are a former member of the government and now an opposition politician, and you also support the Georgians fighting in Ukraine. When this interview reaches our readers, you will again be together with Georgian soldiers. However, the current Georgian government is dissociating itself from them and in many ways pursuing a pro-Russian policy. What kind of Georgia do those who are fighting Russia in Ukraine today dream of?

    We hope that Putin will be defeated, crushed. And that will mean that this Putin power in Georgia, the power of the Russian oligarch Ivanishvili, without Russia’s support will no longer be able to harm our soldiers. For the time being, he is effectively making their lives miserable by creating bureaucratic obstacles. The current Prime Minister has even called them mercenaries. This applies to me as well, because I consider myself part of the Georgian Legion. It shows what the current government is like if it contemptuously calls soldiers fighting Putin’s troops, our common enemy, mercenaries.

    Do ordinary Georgians understand what these soldiers are fighting for?

    Of course. The vast majority of Georgians, up to 85 per cent, stand firmly on the side of Ukraine in this war and support our soldiers.

    Where is this war at in your assessment? Do you feel that the support of the West is sufficient? We are getting reports of serious shortages, if only of ammunition, on the Ukrainian side.

    It is clear, and everyone can see it, that the Ukrainian side is suffering from shortages, especially when it comes to more advanced equipment. Ammunition is also a problem. It is a deeply unfair situation. I also think that this is not the wisest course of action on the part of the West at the moment. Ukraine is forced to ask repeatedly for every single thing: this type of missile, another type of missile, aircraft, tanks.

    Don’t you believe the explanation that more advanced armaments, for example, ATACAMS-type missiles, could mean an escalation of the conflict on the part of Russia?

    Such thinking does not seem reasonable to me. Putin only understands the language of force. Let me repeat again, I say this on the basis of facts. The Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008 was a perfect demonstration of these facts. Without resistance, including the manifestation of a tough stance – including a military one – by the US, Putin would not have stopped, would have occupied Tbilisi and would probably have overthrown the Georgian government. Of course, in any such situation, there is a risk of escalation, but inaction is linked to a much greater risk. Someone who does not react appropriately to a gangster’s behaviour when a gangster enters your house to kill your family runs a much greater risk.

    Mikheil Saakashvili is currently in prison, in very poor health. His political ally and great friend, Lech Kaczyński, as many Poles believe, was killed near Smolensk in 2010. In your opinion, are these two cases somehow connected?

    Definitely. This is one Putin’s revenge. Putin is trying to kill anyone who wants to thwart his plans to make Russia an empire again. An empire on the Stalinist model. Anyone who can or could be an obstacle to these plans must be eliminated. Today, unfortunately, we already have a whole file of facts that show him as a murderer of those he considers to be his opponents. Previously, it seemed improbable to many, they preferred not to believe it, that Putin was doing to President Saakashvili what he had promised him; that he had killed President Kaczynski. But now that we are seeing what Putin is doing to Ukrainian children, women, how he is destroying Ukrainian villages and towns, just as he destroyed Aleppo, many have seen what he is capable of. I hope that at least for most people this has become clear: why Georgia, why President Kaczynski, why the demonstrative torture of President Saakashvili, poisoning him and ordering the Putin government in Georgia to kill him bit by bit every day. Putin savours it, he extends this torture before the eyes of Georgia and the international community as a demonstration of his revenge. He derives pleasure from it, something he didn’t get with President Kaczynski when he had to do it straight away. Putin is taking revenge on those presidents who were the first in Europe after World War II to resist Russian aggression.

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