Mikheil Saakashvili: 'Of course, I feel in danger'
The Georgian secret services cooperate very closely with the Russians and there are Russian tanks 40 kilometers away from Saakashvili's jail
DW conducted an interview with former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is currently jailed, by sending him a set of questions that were answered in writing. He talked about his health and the conditions of imprisonment in Georgia, as well as his relationship to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the prospects of the current regime in Russia.
Saakashvili has been detained in Georgia since the fall of 2021. He was arrested on previous charges after he illegally crossed the border out of Georgia and returned. Several criminal cases, including one for abuse of power during his term as president, have been brought against him.
He has been in the Vivamed clinic in the Georgian capital Tbilisi since May 2022 and says that he was "physically and psychologically tortured systematically" in prison. Those closest to him believe that he was poisoned.
DW: Mr. Saakashvili, how are you doing? Are you receiving the medical care you need? Have the doctors been able to improve your health?
Mikheil Saakashvili: As for my state of health, yesterday I lost consciousness twice (as of July 12). I feel very weak and I'm getting worse. I have problems because of a serious neurological disease. I'm also suffering from almost complete muscle atrophy, and I have many other symptoms.
Do you feel safe? How are the prison staff treating you?
The Georgian prison service is breaking the law by not allowing visits from MPs or from Dmytro Lubinets [Editor's Note: Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights]. Of course, I feel in danger. The Georgian secret services cooperate very closely with the Russians and there are Russian tanks 40 kilometers away from my jail.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked the Georgian authorities to allow you to go to Ukraine or a third country for treatment. Apparently, the voices of those supporting you in the EU and the US are not strong enough. Why is that?
The European Parliament has adopted a very clear resolution, as has PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe]. Emmanuel Macron [French president] and Maia Sandu [Moldovan president] have also called for my release. I am very grateful to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Andrii Yermak [Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine], Dmytro Kuleba [Ukrainian foreign minister], David Arakhamia [head of the parliamentary faction of Ukraine's ruling Servant of the People party], Ruslan Stefanchuk [chairperson of Ukrainian Parliament] and parliament as a whole. Poland is also very active. In Washington, my situation has been raised at a very high level more than once.
You recently stated that it was necessary to prepare for the liberation of the regions of Abkhazia and Shida Kartli. Do you think this is what the Georgian army should do? Under what circumstances would this be realistic?
I do not think that Georgia needs conflict. After its inevitable defeat in Ukraine, Russia will leave our territories. South Ossetia barely has a population and Abkhazia is half empty. But as long as the war continues, Georgia is less secure than ever.
Georgia has taken in Ukrainian refugees. Many Russian citizens have also gone to Georgia to flee mobilization. What risk does the high number of Russian citizens in Georgia pose?
I am very glad that Ukrainians have found refuge in Georgia, but the presence of Russians is very dangerous. There are always problems when there are Russians.
If Ukraine and Georgia had received NATO Membership Action Plans (MAPs) in 2008, would it have been possible to avoid the wars that Russia launched against Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014?
If we had received action plans for NATO membership in Bucharest [at the 2008 NATO summit], there would have been no war. The whole war procedure was set in motion immediately after the action plans were denied.
At the recent NATO summit in Vilnius, there was again no clear invitation to Ukraine to become a member of NATO. Are you disappointed by this?
I consider the Vilnius summit, the fact that the MAP was removed [from Ukraine's path to membership] and the security guarantees also to be a big achievement for Zelenksyy and Ukrainian diplomacy.
In contrast to Ukraine's, Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations do not seem to be high on the agenda at the moment. Do you still think that Georgia will one day become a member of NATO?
Georgia will be in NATO as soon as we get rid of the pro-Russian government and the Russian oligarch loses power.
What do you think Ukrainian victory over Russia will look like?
Ukraine will have won when the 1991 borders are restored and there is regime change in Moscow. Putin is very unsteady at the moment, and any successes for Ukraine on the front — access to the sea or the recapture of Bakhmut — will hasten his end. By the way, I like Volodymyr Zelenskyy's undiplomatic style. In 2008, US President George W. Bush asked me personally to try to convince Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to react positively to the decision in Bucharest. We did that, but it didn't help. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Andrii Yermak and Dmytro Kuleba have created a new school of diplomacy for the world, and it is having an effect. There are no real leaders left, but Zelenskyy has really become the leader of the free world — that is something to be proud of.
What would you like to say to the people of Ukraine and Georgia?
I have spent half of my conscious life in Ukraine. I do not separate Ukraine and Georgia. Georgia has no future without Ukraine, and both have a great future. I am deeply convinced of that.