President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear Gentlemen!
We recently finished our conversation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. For obvious reasons it was devoted to one topic, the tragic events in South Ossetia. We have also been intensively exchanging information with the President over the past two days.
Before I talk about the results that we achieved today, I would like to emphasize that our meeting is taking place within a new status quo. As you know, in connection with the success of our peace enforcement operation today I ordered its end. And we are grateful to our partner, my colleague Nicolas Sarkozy, because he immediately joined the search for solutions to this problem.
Now the actual results that we achieved. I will read out certain principles, then my colleague will do so in French.
President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev and President of the Republic of France Nicolas Sarkozy support the following principles in resolving the conflicts and call on all parties concerned to adhere to these principles. They are six.
One. Do not resort to the use of force.
Two. The absolute cessation of all hostilities.
Three. Free access to humanitarian assistance.
Four. The Armed Forces of Georgia must withdraw to their permanent positions.
Five. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation must withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities. Prior to the establishment of international mechanisms the Russian peacekeeping forces will take additional security measures.
Six. An international debate on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security will take place.
I think that these are good principles to resolve this problem and to go beyond the dramatic situation that arose. And these principles may be implemented both by Georgia and South Ossetia.
The French President intends to travel to Tbilisi from Moscow to bring these principles to the Georgian side. If the Georgian side is truly ready to sign them, really does withdraw its troops to their initial positions, and fulfills these principles then the process to normalizing the situation in South Ossetia will have begun.
President of France Nicholas Sarkozy (as translated from Russian): Mr President,
I am very pleased with the several hours of discussion we had the day before yesterday, yesterday and today. What you announced just now – the cessation of hostilities — is good news for all who are committed to peace. Furthermore, we have had very free and frank discussions on this situation that has caused so much suffering and trauma on all sides.
The document President Medvedev presented sets out the conclusions of these many hours of talks between Russia and France, which was represented by Bernard Kouchner and myself.
The first principle is not to resort to force. Of course, our discussions did not resolve every single point. We tried to draft a brief document that opens the road to an agreement.
The second principle is complete cessation of hostilities. At the moment we are still talking about a temporary ceasefire. This ceasefire could become permanent if Bernard Kouchner and I convince Georgia to sign this document today.
Third – ensuring free access to humanitarian aid. You know that there are many refugees there now and they need help.
Fourth – the withdrawal of Georgian Armed Forces to their permanent bases.
Fifth – Russia’s Armed Forces will withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the start of hostilities. Until such time as international mechanisms are established the Russian peacekeeping forces (the Russian Armed Forces present in South Ossetia under OSCE mandate) will take additional security measures.
We will discuss with President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili the measures to be taken until confidence between Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgians can be restored.
Finally, sixth – international discussion will begin on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security.
I remind you that the situation in these regions has been the subject of numerous discussions in the Security Council since 1992. Judging by the crisis we face today, attempts to find a definitive solution to the problem have failed so far.
I want to say in the presence of President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev that we see Russia’s desire to guarantee and respect Georgia’s sovereignty. He can confirm this himself. There is no ambiguity in our position here. This is a very important point.
We will leave for Tbilisi now to continue the discussions. Tomorrow, Bernard Kouchner will meet with the foreign ministers of the EU member states to report on our mission. I want to add that before coming here today to meet with the Russian President, I spoke late yesterday evening with Angela Merkel, and the Chancellor and I are in full agreement in our views. I also spoke with Silvio Berlusconi and I met with members of Gordon Brown and Prime Minister Zapatero’s staffs. I was able to speak with the Presidents of Poland and Ukraine, with whom I will meet in Tbilisi, as they are there at the moment.
This result is the outcome of our lengthy discussion. You could say that we have not achieved peace, but we have achieved a temporary ceasefire. Of course, there is still much work to be done, and I hope that we will obtain positive results.
Question: I have a question for the Russian President.
Why has the ceasefire been announced only today when Saakashvili, if I recall correctly, announced two days ago that Georgia was ready to agree to a ceasefire? What are Russia’s conditions for a cessation of hostilities?
And a question for the French President: All the Georgian President’s statements over these last few days, including his announcement of the start of military operations, were made with the European Union flag in the background, though Georgia is not a member of the European Union. What is your explanation for this?
Dmitry Medvedev: Why only today? I already answered this question today, but I can do so again now. The fact of the matter is that a reinforced Russian peacekeeping contingent carried out an operation to enforce peace on the Georgian leadership. This operation has been successful, and we are therefore ending it.
Today was the right moment to end this operation, and not yesterday or tomorrow. We have therefore declared a temporary ceasefire until a full solution to the problem can be achieved in accordance with the principles that we just named. Most important of all is that we achieved our set objectives.
What were these objectives? First, we protected Russian Federation citizens living in South Ossetia. Second, we restored the status quo and defended law and order in accordance with the international agreements signed in 1992 and subsequent years, upon which conflict resolution efforts in this region have been based. In other words, we have acted in full accordance with our peacekeepers’ mandate, expanding it only as much as these regrettable circumstances required.
As for the Georgian President’s statements that Georgia has been observing a ceasefire for two days now, this is lies. Georgian forces have been shooting at peacekeepers. There were deaths yesterday too, unfortunately. The Georgian forces have been firing artillery and guns and have therefore not been observing any ceasefire.
You know that there are some people who, unlike normal people, once they’ve smelt blood it is very hard to stop them. You have no choice then but to turn to surgical methods. But today, we have ensured the conditions required for carrying out our mission and this opens the road for us to be able to come back to the main issue — that of peace based on the principles that my colleague, the President, and I have just announced.
Nicholas Sarkozy: I can confirm that Georgia is not a member of the EU, but I cannot prohibit a head of state from displaying the EU flag.
Dmitry Medvedev: The main thing is that Europe not be discredited.
Question: Mr Sarkozy, why is the principle of Georgia’s territorial integrity not among the principles announced? Does this mean that this principle is no longer important in your eyes?
Mr Medvedev, do you recognise Georgia’s territorial integrity? Is it conceivable to you that Ossetians will remain a part of Georgia? Is this possible?
Nicholas Sarkozy: We need to find a way out of the crisis, and to find a way out of the crisis the parties to the conflict need to end their hostilities. We are faced with an emergency situation and it is not our objective right now to resolve all the problems. I note that the Ossetia and Abkhazia issues and the problems in the Caucasus region overall have been the subject of numerous resolutions. Georgia is an independent and sovereign state and I think this formula, the principle of sovereignty, is broader than the formula of territorial integrity.
I add that before the crisis international forces acting under an international mandate were stationed in both of these territories. I did not decide this and nor did I challenge it. If peacekeepers were present on these two territories it meant that there were problems there that had to be settled. There were problems that have become more serious over these last days but that existed before too. If there not been any problems there would have been no need to station international peacekeeping forces in these regions even before.
There are two options: we can try to resolve all the issues now and end up achieving no result at all, or we can try to restore peace and attempt through dialogue to find a long-term solution, which is what we have tried to do. You know that there are two terms, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘independence’, and I have used precisely these two words because it is they that are important. If you want to be a mediator, you need to bring parties with different positions closer together. This is how I see my role as President of my country and President of the European Council.
I realize that many people have their own ideas on how to resolve this problem, but these definitive proposals all run up against the problem of refugees from Georgia and Russian-speaking refugees. We cannot resolve this problem today. Who can possibly hope to solve all these problems today? What we need to do is end the suffering and the deaths of people. And we have agreed on the respect of sovereignty.
Georgia is an independent country. Russia – as President Medvedev has confirmed – has no intention of remaining in Georgia. This is why I used precisely these terms.
You know this subject well, of course. Numerous other issues will come up later. We all realise this. This document with its six points cannot answer all the questions, of course, and it does not provide a final solution to the problem because there are other parties to the conflict. We cannot examine all of these issues right now in the heat of the moment. We propose opening an international discussion and we need to ensure that these discussions really do take place.
I am giving you as frank a reply as possible and this really is what I think. For my part, I am willing to consider every option and my only aim is to encourage people into dialogue and mutual understanding in a region where the situation is very complex and has been so for a long time now, being a region where all these different peoples live together. We are therefore trying to ease the situation and restore peace. That is what I wanted to say.
Believe me, I am willing to consider every option. But I want things to be transparent and clear. This is not a case of my not having sufficient courage. (As an aside I’d just like to say too that we should not make a cult of courage. It is a lot easier to write an editorial than to get people in a state of war to come closer together. I’m not trying to say anything unpleasant to you, this is just something I wanted to add).
Dmitry Medvedev: What is sovereignty? It is the supremacy of central government. Does Russia recognise Georgia’s sovereignty? Without any doubt it does, just as it recognises the Georgian government’s independence from any other governments. But this does not mean that a sovereign state has the right to do whatever it pleases. Even sovereign states have to answer for their actions.
Regarding the issue of territorial integrity, this is a separate concept. Sovereignty is based on the people’s will and on the constitution, but territorial integrity is generally a reflection of the real state of affairs. On paper everything can look fine but the reality is far more complex.
Territorial integrity is a very complicated issue that cannot be decided at demonstrations or even in parliament and at meetings of leaders. It is decided by people’s desire to live in one country.
You were right in asking if the Ossetians and Abkhazians can and want to live within Georgia. This is a question for them to ask of themselves and it is they who will give their own clear answer. It is not for Russia or any other country to answer this question for them. This is something that must take place in strict accordance with international law. Though, over these last years international law has given us numerous very complicated cases of peoples exercising their right to self-determination and the emergence of new states on the map. Just look at the example of Kosovo.
This is therefore a question that the Ossetians and Abkhazians must answer themselves, based on their history and taking into account everything that has happened over these last few days.
Question: I have a question for both presidents.
Do you think there was any possibility for Russia to react differently to Georgia’s aggression in South Ossetia? Did you raise the issue of ethnic cleansing at all during your talks?
Dmitry Medvedev: If there had been any possibility for Russia to make a different response to Georgian aggression against South Ossetia we would have done so. There was no other option. Faced with the killing of several thousand citizens the state had to take the appropriate course of action. When international law is violated the state and the entire international community must take the appropriate action and not make the kind of half-hearted response that is regrettably common in the world today. There was no other option open to us and the developments over these last five days show that our course of action was the most effective and consistent. If we had not made this response the number of deaths would have been very much higher.
As far as ethnic cleansing is concerned, this is a problem of course, and we were very firm in raising this issue and will pursue it with those responsible for these acts. Some of our partners for some reason ask us not to raise this issue, including in confidential conversations. Perhaps they are embarrassed. Under international law these acts are deemed a crime, just as the murder of thousands of citizens is called ‘genocide’. There can be no other name for these acts.
Moreover, as we have already said, it is a very strange situation when one person who murders thousands of people is called a terrorist and scoundrel, while another is the lawfully elected president of a sovereign state. International law should not permit the use of double standards, and this is a principle we should uphold in political practice.
Nicholas Sarkozy: You can see that the wounds are still fresh and have not had time to hear, and every question on either side gives vent to suffering.
France thinks that war is never a good solution. France maintains this position with regard to Georgia (they did take certain initiatives, as you know), and France also said to Russia that war is not the right solution. At President Medvedev’s request, in order to see that people really are suffering on both sides, I asked [Foreign] Minister Kouchner to visit Tbilisi and to go to North Ossetia to see the refugees from South Ossetia. The day before yesterday, President Medvedev asked me to get the French foreign minister to visit both sides in order to see the real picture of events.
As far as ethnic cleansing and genocide are concerned, there are international courts, the International Court of Justice. If one party to the conflict wishes to bring charges against perpetrators in these courts, this is its right, and it is for this purpose that these courts exist. But for this to happen investigations need to start and an attempt be made to establish the facts. Each party must answer for its own acts. I cannot reproach a country for wanting to resolve problems using these means. The international laws and the International Court of Justice were established precisely for this purpose.
Question: Mr Sarkozy, will you convoke the European Council to study this affair? What do you think about the fact that Eastern European countries and the Baltic states have taken Saakashvili’s side? What do you think about the idea of having European peacekeepers accompany the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Would you agree to have European peacekeepers complement the Russian peacekeeping force?
Nicholas Sarkozy: It is too early yet to talk about convoking a summit meeting of the European Council, which I think is what your question is referring to.
I have not yet presented the results of our talks to the Georgian leadership. As President of the European Council I am concerned about maintaining unity in Europe. Each country has its own position and takes a more or less active stand depending on its history, and it is not easy to achieve consensus among all the EU members, but I think that the French initiative will receive all the members’ support.
I cannot reproach the Poles and reproach the Polish President for his initiatives or the foreign minister for going there. You know that other leaders have also gone there. You know the situation. I intend to support and maintain European unity.
Let us see how the meeting of EU foreign ministers goes tomorrow and how the meeting with the Georgian leadership goes. We will look at the outcome of these meetings and will have the time to decide whether or not we need to convoke a meeting of the European Council.
I do not want to hurry with calling such a meeting. I know that we need to go to the region itself, as Mr Kouchner has done. We need to discuss all the issues with the Russian authorities, as I have done today, and with the Georgian authorities.
Could Europe be part of a peacekeeping force? Europe is ready to do this, of course. This conflict is taking place on Europe’s borders. The question of relations between Russia and Europe is a strategic issue in that we seek good relations with Russia. Moreover, we want to strengthen the relations between Europe and Russia. Naturally we are willing to consider the possibility of our forces taking part if this is something the different parties desire.
Dmitry Medvedev: I would just like to add a couple of words on this subject.
The stability of the world order rests on the system of international law. The better we fix this in our minds the easier it will be to live and the fewer problems we will have.
The international agreements that served as the basis for peacekeepers’ work were drafted in 1992 and reinforced by subsequent international agreements and they remain in effect today. Our peacekeepers are carrying out their mission and will continue to do so because they are a key factor in ensuring security in the Caucasus. This was the case and it will remaine so.