Russia to keep Georgia territorially divided: Saakashvili

Reuters News

10/22/2012 12:24:25 PM - Reuters News

By Daniel Fineren

DUBAI (Reuters) - Russia will stop Georgia trying to reunite with two breakaway states even after a parliamentary election won by a coalition led by a politician seen as having warmer ties with Moscow, outgoing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Monday.

Russia, which has had no diplomatic relations with Georgia since the two fought a brief war over separatist South Ossetia in 2008, has reacted positively to the October 1 victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili's coalition.

Ivanishvili, who made much of his estimated $6.4 billion fortune in Russia, has said he wants to begin to repair relations with Moscow, but Saakashvili, whom the Kremlin has cast as a figure of hate, said he would face an uphill struggle.

"The basic things don't change and the basic thing is that Russia will fight with us over our territory," Saakashvili told reporters in Dubai on the sidelines of the World Energy Forum.

Russia, which dominated Georgia for centuries until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, has said it isn't prepared to discuss the status of the two breakaway regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - which it recognized as independent states after its war with Tbilisi four years ago.

"The first thing that they said is that they are not going to change it, no matter who is in government in Georgia, so that already puts the new government in an incredibly difficult situation," said Saakashvili.

"It doesn't depend on personalities, who is in charge of Georgia, it's really a matter of principle of what Russian policy is and Russian policy is to encroach upon the independence and territorial integrity of its neighbors."

Russia rejects accusations of territorial meddling, saying it intervened in South Ossetia in 2008 to protect its own citizens who live there from what it said was an attempt by Saakashvili to storm it by force.

Saakashvili said during the election campaign that he thought Ivanishvili, 56, would favor Russia over the West. Ivanishvili has denied that but has said he is better placed to build bridges with Moscow.

However, he has also promised to continue Georgia's long drive for deeper integration with NATO and the West, a move that would be likely to upset Russia.

Saakashvili, who has styled himself as a major U.S. ally, said he plans to work with Ivanishvili to ensure a smooth transition of power and hopes to take Georgia a step closer to NATO membership before he leaves office next year.

"The last condition of NATO was that the elections should be free and fair," said Saakashvili. "As they were, they have been treated as fair by everybody, so now Georgia should get a reward for that."

(Reporting by Daniel Fineren; Editing by Andrew Osborn)