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Last Updated: Friday, 16 January, 2004, 16:27 GMT
Georgia tells Russia to stay out
Mikhail Saakashvili (left) smiles while listening to the preliminary election results as his wife Sandra Roelofs applauds him in Georgia's capital Tbilisi
Saakashvili says he is ready to deal with Georgia's "mess"
The newly elected Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has warned Russia against interfering in his country.

He said relations with Russia would improve with security guarantees, but Georgia was also happy to get them from the US or Nato in the future.

"I don't care about foreign interests, I care about Georgian interests," he told BBC's Talking Point programme on Friday.

Mr Saakashvili was the opposition leader who led the protests that swept former President Eduard Shevardnadze from office last November.

The American-educated lawyer went on to achieve a landslide victory in the presidential elections at the beginning of January.

'Cold War over'

Mr Saakashvili told callers to the BBC's global phone-in programme that Russia played a direct role in Georgia's civil war in the 1990's, when Abkhazia province demanded secession.

As a result, he said, many Georgians were displaced and the province was now a major drug smuggling route.

We are friends with the Americans because they helped us
Georgia's new President Mikhail Saakashvili

He admitted the new Russian leadership was more pragmatic and said it was time to normalise relations with Moscow for Georgia to survive in a difficult geo-strategic environment.

But Georgia's new leader said he was not afraid of coming under US influence, while trying to balance Russia.

"The Cold War is over and we will not give up our independence. Russia cannot treat us as their former colony," Mr Saakashvili said.

"We are friends with the Americans because they helped us."

He said that they had helped to train the army, assisted with food, helped fight corruption - and had not asked for bases in Georgia.

They would co-operate with Russia as well, if Russia is willing to give them security guarantees, he said.

"It's not a matter of asking whether we're lean towards the West or Nato but it's a matter of offering a more secure, stable, friendly environment to us and we're making concrete steps on the part of Russia," he said.

"We've been talking to the Russian officials during this week and we hope to change this climate of relations."

European nation

Mr Saakashvili also signalled closer ties with Europe. He said Georgians were essentially European in their values, nature and culture.

"We want to be integrated into Europe and nobody can stop us," he said.

Georgia's new president also said they were fully committed to a strategic gas pipeline scheduled to pass through their territory, because it would provide them long-term with development and security.

He said they were happy to continue using Russian gas as long as it was not a tool for political influence - and cut off during the coldest days of the winter, as it often is.

The interview with Mr Saakashvili will be broadcast on the BBC World Service and BBC World Television on 18 January at 1400GMT.


SEE ALSO:
Georgia asks for accounts freeze
09 Jan 04  |  Europe
Profile: Mikhail Saakashvili
05 Jan 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Georgia
06 Jan 04  |  Country profiles


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