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Ukraine, Europe’s second-largest country with a population of 44 million, is fighting Russia in what intelligence communities have declared to be Europe’s biggest war since 1945. A man who has fought the Russian army in his homeland says the world now believes what he warned of 14 years ago.
“At least I warned all my Western friends that Russia was becoming more dangerous and drawing more red lines,” says Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president, who is behind bars in his country on charges he considered to be forged from scratch.
Saakashvili, who calls himself Putin’s private prisoner, responded in writing to questions from Fox News through his attorney.
The then 41-year-old president was in his second term when in August 2008 Russian troops arrived on Georgian soil and occupied the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, one-fifth of Georgian territory. Russia quickly recognized its independence – a playbook Putin repeated in Ukraine this week.
“I remember saying to Ambassador Burns [Nicholas Burns, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia] and Dick Holbrooke that one day Russia will even use tactical nukes, and they looked at me like I was crazy, now a lot of people believe the same,” he recalled.
In April 2008, NATO leaders met in Bucharest, Romania, to vote on the Membership Action Plan (MAP) of two candidate countries – Georgia and Ukraine. Despite strong American support, alliance leaders disagreed and the applications were rejected. However, the heads of state agreed that “these countries will become members of NATO”. The promise angered the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin has since repeated that NATO’s expansion on its eastern flank poses a security threat to the Russian Federation.
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Before the August 2008 war, many Westerners did not share Saakashvili’s alarm about the coming Russian aggression, citing his personality and calling him “hotheaded”. I asked Saakashvili why he failed to convince the West of the apparent danger.
“I could relate to them, this had never happened before,” reads his handwritten response.
Saakashvili was not the only Eastern European leader to warn of Russia’s resurgence. A year earlier, in April 2007, Estonia was hit by major cyberattacks – online services of banks, media and government agencies were taken down. When then-President Toomas Hendrik Ilves pointed out that Russia was behind the attacks, “most countries said, oh, you’re just Russophobic,” Ilves told Fox News via skype from Estonia. .
Ilves was one of five Eastern European presidents who stood on stage alongside Saakashvili in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square, showing his support and solidarity for a country attacked by its neighbor 30 times over. big. This unity was not shared by the western allies.
“I have long argued that the more western members of NATO did not take the experiences of the new eastern members as seriously as they should have. And now, 15 years later, they have to deal with the consequences of not really believing what the Eastern members were saying,” Ilves says.
“The United States government was constantly urging the Georgian president to be patient and not respond to Russian provocations,” Matthew Bryza, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, told Fox News. what happened is that the Russians arranged for separatists in Georgia, just like the separatists in eastern Ukraine, to fire artillery at the Georgian positions, just like the separatists l have done in Ukraine. The Georgians fought back, and that was the pretext for the Russian invasion.”
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After a 5-day war, Russia and Georgia signed a peace accord brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. As former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalled on CNN this week, the Bush administration tried to coordinate sanctions against Russia, but “the Europeans weren’t there”, she said. declared.
Rice also recalled how his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov wanted “Saakashvili to leave” as one of the conditions for ending the war, somewhat similar to what Putin expressed in his televised speech on Monday calling the Ukrainian government “those who took and hold power in Kyiv”.
Depending on who you asked in the West, Saakashvili was either accused of “starting the conflict” or “being provoked”. “They tended to blame us, the victim, rather than the aggressor, with whom they wanted to get back into business very quickly,” he wrote 14 years later.
The starkest example of “business as usual” is the 2009 Obama White House reset policy.
Bryza, who was in the administration at the time, said he was “appalled” when the reset policy was announced months after Russia occupied Georgian territories. “It was a signal for Putin that despite the invasion of Georgia and the occupation of a large part of its territory, everything was fine. Russia responded to the outstretched hand with a clenched fist and reinforced its attack Bryza said, referring to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the size of Massachusetts.
Saakashvili, who studied in both Ukraine and the United States, also served in Ukraine’s elected government after the 2014 Euromaidan protests that toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. He first served as chairman of the advisory council on reforms, then became governor of the Ukrainian region of Odessa in the Black Sea.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015, Saakashvili mentioned Putin’s name more than a dozen times and called on the United States to raise the Kremlin award. “A democratic and secure Ukraine is the last nation between revanchist Russia and America,” he said in his closing speech.
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From the highest stands to prison cells, Saakashvili continues to believe that Putin’s ultimate goal is to deconstruct European and transatlantic architecture.
“Putin is now emulating Georgia 2008 day to day,” wrote Saakashvili, who held the Ukrainian flag and sang the national anthem during his final court appearance.
As this story is published, Saakashvili was on a hunger strike for his medical care.