Interview with the former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili
Author: Sevgil Musaeva
Translation by @Anastasiya1451A (Twitter)
On October 1, 2021, the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili and a prominent critic of Putin’s regime and aggression on Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014), returned to Georgia.
He knew the risks – there was an open criminal case against him and the current Georgian Government was controlled by the pro-Russian oligarchs. Indeed, in the evening of the same day.
In the following year, Saakashvili went through trials, hunger strikes, refusal of Georgian authorities to extradite him to Ukraine [Saakashvili being a Ukrainian citizen now], and deterioration of his physical condition. Eventually, Saakashvili was transferred from prison to a hospital setting, remaining under 24/7 surveillance and a de facto prisoner now in his hospital room.
Eventually, when the videos of Saakashvili’s current health condition leaked to the public. This was followed, by a report from an international team of doctors confirming that he was suffering from heavy metals poisoning while in custody. A clear picture emerged – a man was put not on trial but poisoned and left to die in a hospital prison cell.
This sparked an international effort, from both European leaders and the public (#SaveMisha campaign), demanding medical treatment for Saakashvili in order to save his life.
In early December 2022, Ukrainska Pravda journal sent a set of questions to Mikhail Saakashvili who was poisoned with heavy metals while in the custody of the Georgian government and facing another trial via video conference. Saakashvili’s health is rapidly deteriorating, and he is denied medical treatment. He is not allowed any visitors except for his lawyer and his mother [Source: https://youtu.be/w7WdJ6HVU4I]. Therefore, the interview exchange was made in writing, with Saakashvili handwriting part of the answers and dictating other parts to his friend.
Original written interview and Saakashvili’s letter by pravda.com.ua.
Author: Sevgil Musaeva
Translation and commentary by: @Anastasiya1451A (twitter)
– Tell me how you feel. In what conditions are you being held? Do you receive medical care?
– I am in a clinic where doctors give me maximum help in very difficult conditions for them.
They are interviewed every day by the Security Service of Georgia, and every time a nurse comes to see me for a routine procedure (for example, to give a pill), she is thoroughly searched. Imagine that happening 30 times a day.
The windows of my “chamber” are sealed with a thick film, and I have not seen a ray of sunlight for seven months. Recently, when I had a severe hypertensive crisis, the jailers did not allow me to be transferred to the intensive care unit.
– Earlier you talked about poisoning by heavy metals. Who could benefit from it, how did it happen and when?
– My poisoning has been proven beyond any doubt by two American laboratories and a leading American toxicologist, David Smith.
Of course, first of all, it was beneficial to Putin, who, as it turned out after February 24, has complete control of Georgia. The level of control was surprising even for me.
The poisoning happened during the forcible transfer to the “prison hospital”, where I suddenly became very ill, and, as the reanimatologist later said, it was a miracle that I did not die.
Although the poisoning left very severe symptoms. If, at the time of my arrest, my weight was about 120 kg and now it is 72 kg [Saakashvili’s height is 195cm or 6 feet 5 inches].
– Do Western politicians help you today? What could they do more effectively to save you?
– I think that they have become very active now. The European Parliament passed a resolution regarding my poisoning, and the European Commission is very active. The President and the Prime Minister of Poland flew to Georgia to advocate for my release. President of Moldova Maia Sandu made several statements. There have been statements from the US State Department, and this is just the beginning.
But the main thing for me was President Zelensky’s statement. First, because his word is worth more than the word of many world politicians. Georgians simply adore him. Secondly, it was the highest humanitarian act in a very difficult time for Ukraine.
– Do you regret your decision to go to Georgia, which led to your arrest and detention in such conditions?
– I regret not the arrest, but the fact that I cannot be in Ukraine and be an active participant in this war.
I am with Ukraine as I wake up, I fall asleep thinking of Ukraine and generally live with Ukraine.
– Taking into account the fact that Putin has a particularly “tender” attitude towards you, where would you feel safer today – in Ukraine or in a Georgian prison?
– In a Georgian prison, I am Putin’s personal prisoner. Prison guards often treat me worse than they would, for example, in Lefortovo.
At the same time, the absolute majority of people in Georgia treat me extremely positively. I feel this from the stories of my parents, children and friends. And I’m not looking for security. In Ukraine, I would be on the front line and feel very happy.
– Did you believe that Russia would invade Ukraine? What surprised you the most about this war?
– I was one of the first who for many years predicted this invasion, in particular its main directions. You can view all my previous speeches. But I did not believe that he would attack Kyiv with such small forces.
Today, the Armed Forces of Ukraine is one of the best armies in world history, which multiplied the feat of the legendary 300 Spartans by 100.
The problem is that on the side of Ukraine, the best of the nation is fighting and dying, and on the side of Russia – the degenerates. Although hardly anyone remained in Russia, except for sheep/degenerates.
– When you observe how the world is helping Ukraine today, don’t you ask yourself the question: “Where were you all in August 2008, when Russian tanks rushed to Tbilisi?”?
– The world has learned its lessons, and I am very satisfied with the amount of Western aid, especially for next year. In 2008, America also saved our country. So, it would be wrong for us to complain.
– What is similar and what is the cardinal difference between the events in Ukraine in 2022 and in Georgia in 2008?
– Preparation was very similar. But, of course, these are different things in scale.
What are the similarities? Our Western friends also offered me to evacuate, by Putin’s request, of course. But I refused, just like Zelensky, and decided to fight. I told Sarkozy [then President of France] the same phrase that Zelensky did to European visitors on the eve of the invasion, that I am not going to leave the capital, even if it is the last time we see each other.
– Why is such a neutral position of Georgia possible today? And how much does it cost Russia?
– This is not a neutral position. There can be no neutrality in such a war. Information has now appeared that Serhii Kyrienko [Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of Russia] is going to come to Georgia (if he has not already arrived). He is one of the main ideologues of this war.
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it is going to cancel the visa regime for citizens of Georgia. Russian officials and propagandists constantly praise the Georgian authorities for keeping me in prison. Georgia was officially excluded from the list of countries unfriendly to Russia, which includes almost half of the world…
Russian propaganda channels, in particular in the Georgian language, are officially operating in Georgia.
The Georgian authorities have never once spoken a word condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine, although they constantly speak of Ukraine and its leadership in a mocking tone. So, there is not even an appearance of neutrality here.
The Georgian authorities blame not only Zelensky, that he allegedly sent me with a special operation and with the task of starting a war. But recently, they also blame the USA, which clearly shows the vector.
And what kind of neutrality are we talking about when the Christmas village in front of the Presidential Palace in Tbilisi was officially named “Russian village” by the Georgian authorities?
– Why do Georgians have no rejection of the mobilization of refugees from Russia?
– Georgians have a huge dislike for the influx of Russian immigrants, to the point that the Georgian authorities intend to introduce criminal liability for russophobic statements and actions.
Especially the young people, whom I taught English and freed from the obligation to learn Russian, express open contempt for visitors from Russia. [20% of Georgia is still under Russian occupation in 2023].
– If you had not gone from Ukraine to Georgia and found the invasion in February 2022 in Kyiv, what would you be doing? How do you see your participation in this war under different circumstances?
– First of all, I would be close to President Zelenskyi, whom I consider to be the most outstanding statesman in the post-Churchill era. Reagan and Thatcher don’t even come close to his level. At the same time, I would travel around the world, using my numerous connections to mobilize support for Ukraine.
Secondly, I would constantly go to the front line, and help both Ukrainian and Georgian soldiers. Recently, the Georgian soldiers recorded a collective address, wishing me a Happy Birthday, although I do not forget for a moment the fact that already 35 of them laid down their heads in the war, including seven on the Bakhmut front. And many of my Ukrainian friends died or were wounded.
One of the most decent and honest people I know, my assistant Volodymyr Havrysh, died near Kherson. My only personal bodyguard and just a friend, Mykhailo Baturin, was seriously wounded near Bakhmut. This is the price that Ukraine and all of us pay.
I myself feel 100% Ukrainian and I have never been more proud of it.
– Do you maintain relations with someone from the Ukrainian authorities today? If so, with whom?
– I constantly maintain contact with the Office of the President, which I believe works super efficiently. With ministers Mykhailo Fedorov, Oleksandr Kubrakov, head of Naftogaz Oleksiy Chernyshov, deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, head of the “Servant of the People” faction David Arakhamia.
And in general, Zelensky now has an ideal war cabinet headed by Yermak.
– How will this war end for Ukraine and Georgia? What will be a loss for Russia and a victory for Ukraine?
– The war will end with the complete defeat and collapse of Russia.
Volodymyr Zelensky formulated the specific parameters of the victory. If I live to see the Ukrainian victory (I believe in a few months), I want to return to Odesa – enjoy the view of the sea and treat my friends.
[People demanding medical care for Saakashvili in Washington, DC, USA, #SaveMisha campaign on 4th of January 2023.
[Saakashvili remains in the custody of the Georgian government as of 7.01.2023 and his health status continues to deteriorate. The Georgian authorities continue to deny humanitarian requests and public campaigns (e.g. #SaveMisha) demanding health care and fair trial for Saakashvili.].
Translation and commentary by @Anastasiya1451A