Saakashvili says Russia overplaying its hand
And the world must now call its bluff
President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Wednesday Moscow had overplayed its hand by backing independence for two Georgian regions and the world must now call its bluff and "roll back Russian aggression".
In a late-night interview in his office, Saakashvili also told Reuters Television that Europe was in "mortal danger" from its reliance on Russian energy and Georgia could further develop its role as a transit state to help reduce that dependence.
"The point here is the Russians are bluffing and they`re overplaying their hand," Saakashvili declared, well-groomed in a dark blue suit and speaking fluent English in an interview that began at 20 minutes past midnight.
"They have more than enough soldiers on the ground to confront a small Georgian armed force. We can never match 3,000 tanks in our territory. But trying to bully the West, the Americans? This is just beyond their resources."
Saakashvili said the conflict was following the "blueprint" of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who he suggested was still calling the shots in Moscow despite being succeeded as president by Dmitry Medvedev.
But he said Russia was "overestimating" itself, buoyed by its surging oil revenues, and questioned its ability to sustain a return to all-out confrontation with the West.
Asked if Georgian entry to NATO -- his over-riding priority -- might not draw the Western alliance itself into war with Russia, the 40-year-old president replied: "I don`t think Russia first of all has the resources for World War Three, I don`t think Russia even has resources for a new Cold War, even as much as they might want to have."
With Russia`s decision to back independence for the rebel Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Georgia and establish diplomatic relations with them, Saakashvili said the challenge facing the international community had become clearer.
"This is so shameless but it makes many things at least for the world more simple. They`ve posed a challenge to the world, now it`s up to the world to tackle this challenge."
Nearly three weeks into a crisis that saw his country heavily defeated in a war with a vastly more powerful neighbour, he appeared confident and energetic after a day when Western nations lined up to condemn Russia`s move.
"I`m somehow reassured by good reactions from the West and generally from the world. What I`m reassured about is that at least people see the reality now," he said.
"Russia clearly intended this as a blatant challenge to world order. It`s now up to all of us to roll Russian aggression back. If they get away with this, they will carry on ... they will also attack other countries in the neighbourhood."
Saakashvili said it was for Europe to decide his country`s future importance as an energy transit state. Georgia already hosts key oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, bypassing Russia.
"This is totally up to Europe. If Georgia is integrated more into European structures, that role will widen. If people get intimidated, that role will be under risk," he said.
"What Russia clearly intended during this invasion is to control 40 percent more (energy) resources from Central Asia and the Caspian, basically.
"I think there`s a future for transit in Georgia. I think there is a future for energy alternatives (to) Russia. It`s high time to look for more of these alternatives because Russia doesn`t make any secret of the fact that they want to bully ... isn`t it high time to understand that staying in this energy dependency means staying in almost some mortal danger?"
Saakashvili said Georgia would accept some form of "international mechanism" to win back South Ossetia and Abkhazia but was vague about the details, saying an emergency European Union meeting on September 1 would be key.
"It`s not about mediation any more and it`s not about bilateral dialogue," he said. "It`s about the international community speaking with one voice, trying to restore international law and world order."