· President says US backed assault on South Ossetia
· Nato membership 'would destabilise region'
September 13 2008
Georgia's attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia was unnecessary and unprovoked and was encouraged by the United States, Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, said in an interview yesterday.
"For Russia, August 8 was like September 11 for the United States," he told a group of foreign journalists and academics. "I would like to see major lessons from it for the world."
He made clear that the lessons, as Russia sees them, are that the post-cold war "illusion" that a world with one super power is a safe and predictable place is now over.
The 42-year-old president said George Bush had phoned him shortly after he had ordered Russian forces to drive the Georgians back. "'You're a young president with a liberal background. Why do you need this?' Medvedev quoted Bush as saying. "I told him we had no choice," he said.
The Russian president's interview followed a day after a similar interview with the prime minister, Vladimir Putin. He seemed to be talking from the same script, though there were important differences between the two. The president was more blunt about his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, calling him "burdened with a host of pathologies" and alleging he often appeared in public under the influence of drugs.
"Russia had to recognise South Ossetia as an independent state - a move widely criticised in the west - because otherwise Georgia might attack again.
"If he takes this blood once he would try again if he was not muzzled," he said.
Medvedev accused the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, of blocking a tentative deal made between Russia and Georgia to sign an agreement on the use of force. "Rice met him and the boy changed miraculously afterwards. He started to postpone the agreement. He started preparations for war."
The Russian president rejected Georgia's argument that if Nato had given it a membership action plan, as Bush wanted to do earlier this year (the move was blocked by France and Germany), Russia would not have dared to use force. "I can assure you that as president I would not have wavered for a second to make the same decisions that I made back then," he said.
He was firmer than Putin in disowning any parallels between today's Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin once described the Soviet collapse as the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. Medvedev, 13 years younger than his predecessor, said he felt no nostalgia.
"I don't want to live in a militarised country behind an iron curtain. It's boring. Been there and seen the movie. I've done that," he said. He took a more optimistic position on the effects of the crisis on Russia's relations with the US and the EU. "I don't think this phase of confrontation will be lengthy," he asserted.
Both men made it clear that Russia was not planning to take South Ossetia into the Russian Federation. Eduard Kokoity, the region's president, said on Thursday that he wanted his republic to join Russia now that it had declared independence from Georgia. Within an hour he had come under pressure to change his position, telling the Russian news agency Interfax that he had been "misunderstood".
Nato is to review its relationship with the Georgian and Ukrainian governments at a summit in December and discuss whether to let them start membership proceedings. The issue is likely to sharpen divisions within the alliance and the Russians hope the advocates of delay will be stronger after Georgia's attack on South Ossetia.
Starting the process of letting Georgia and Ukraine join Nato would be "a seriously destabilising factor", the Russian president said. "We don't understand what Nato can gain by drawing in nations that are still at a crossroads, where the elites and people are split, where there has been no referendum, and where there is a major risk of separatism," he said.