June 10, 2009

Saakashvili denies Georgia attacked Russian troops in S.Ossetia

MOSCOW, May 11 (RIA Novosti) - Georgian troops did not attack Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia during Tbilisi's assault on the separatist republic in August 2008, Georgia's president said Monday on Ekho Moskvy radio.

"With full responsibility I can say there were never any and there could not have been any attacks on Russian peacekeepers," Mikheil Saakashvili said. "We have never been suicidal and are not today."

Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states after last summer's five-day war with Georgia, which attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control. Most residents of both former Georgian republics have held Russian citizenship for several years.

Tbilisi announced its withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States after the war and Saakashvili told Ekho Moskvy that the move was permanent and the country's natural partner was the European Union. He stressed, however, that the country had bilateral relations with all CIS members except Russia.

Tbilisi broke off diplomatic relations with Moscow following Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Its membership of the Commonwealth of Independent States officially ends in August.

"Georgia's exit from the CIS - I hope and am sure - is irreversible. We must not hang in the wind, we must be located somewhere. For us the natural partner, the natural place, is the European Union," the Georgian leader said.

Saakashvili referred to the EU's new Eastern Partnership program with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine, which he said gave Georgia "free trade with the EU and an easing of the visa regime."

Russia has expressed concerns about the program, which does not offer EU membership but is aimed at drawing the six former Soviet republics closer to the bloc, including by improving human rights, easing visa regulations and ensuring energy security.

Georgia's president also denied claiming he had verified information that Russian secret services were behind a recent mutiny by a Georgian tank unit.

"I never said that we have precise information," Saakashvili said on the radio.

The Georgian government said on May 5 that an armored infantry battalion at the Mukhrovani military base had mutinied as part of a plot to stage a nationwide coup and assassinate the president.

Saakashvili is under intense pressure domestically after the war with Russia led to the loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with more than a month of opposition protests calling for his resignation.

He was to meet later on Monday with opposition leaders in an effort to find a way out of the standoff.


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