The Georgian television channel Rustavi 2 has broadcast a live interview with Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili on the crisis currently affecting Russia-Georgia relations. An excerpt, via Civil Georgia:
Q.: According to international law, should Russia inform Georgia when it plans such large-scale military exercises near the Georgian border?
A.: First I want to say that these maneuvers are over-dramatized. I want to tell you, that because of the huge international support, including among the international organizations and western media, Georgia has never been as protected as it is now in our recent history. At the same time Russia has never been so unprotected and weak as it is now, because Russia is very confused and is undertaking inappropriate and spontaneous steps. Russia [military] maneuvers are an ordinary face-saving action. Military exercises neither in North Ossetia, nor on the Black Sea pose any threat to Georgia’s security. The only thing which might happen is to continue minor provocations in the Tskhinvali Region [South Ossetia] and Abkhazia so that to redirect attention towards these regions. So I do not see any serious threat in Russia’s actions.
Russia is very confused. As you see that Russia’s reaction is changing every day and every hour. They are so confused that they have sent to Georgia aircrafts with the capacity to transport 800 passengers to evacuate just 100 persons.
I absolutely understand the reasons behind these [actions]. This is a very unusual condition for Russia. Russia always had an advantage, because it had better access to the international media, it had levers in the UN and in other international organization, it had advantage because it could manipulate inside Georgia, in Tbilisi, Tskhinvali and Abkhazia through staging provocations, but today the entire world saw that Russia is just an ordinary helpless state and the myth about its powerful intelligence and its omnipotence has been destroyed and this myth now only belongs to history. Of course for Russians it is especially painful that this blow was made by Georgia.
I do not think that Russia will refrain from any major provocations and even if it decides to undertake a step of this kind Russia itself will be harmed. I expect certain provocations mainly in Tskhinvali and Abkhazia. Our police forces are mobilized and we will not yield to these provocations.
Q.: If the court finds them [Russian spy suspects] guilty, will the Russian officers spend their term of sentence in Georgia, or they will be extradited to Russia?
A.: This is not up to the Interior Ministry to decide.
One thing is clear: they are now in the Georgian penitentiary and I am sure that the Georgian court will rule fair judgment.
I think that those foreign agents are not as alarming for us as those citizens of Georgia, who were selling Georgia in exchange of a very low payment. I think discussion and intensive work should be started in Georgia with those people who have been working with the foreign special services for many years and there are lots of people of this kind in Georgia. These people bear lion’s share of responsibility for those defeats which Georgia has suffered in past 15 years.