Eduard Shevardnadze, September 1995 interview
Interviewer — Julia Kalinina, on behalf of Metta Spencer
(Julia had become a prominent journalist after working for me and by 1995 knew Shevardnadze well.)
JULIA: During the celebration of Victory Day in Moscow you were the only president of a former Soviet Republic who made a speech. I know that such things don’t happen often. That was an honour given exactly to you. How do you explain that fact?
SHEVARDNADZE: I don’t know how it was decided. Maybe there was a kind of agreement between other presidents or maybe not. I was proposed and I didn’t refuse — though I certainly didn’t speak on behalf of everybody.
JULIA: That’s clear, but why exactly you? Maybe they chose you because, for the Westerners, you still are a man who contributed to the end of cold war. On the fiftieth Victory Day it was important for the Russian government to remind our guests about the situation in the world that existed 5-6 years ago.
SHEVARDNADZE: Maybe you are right. A friendly attitude towards me in the West and the fact that perestroika and democratization are associated with my name.
JULIA: On the other hand, all these perestroka agreements — the elimination of missiles, the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the unification of Germany — for the same deeds that the West thanked you, you are severely criticized here. And now a kind of revision is going on about what you had done. Now you can observe all these events from the sidelines. Was it really necessary to conclude these treaties? Or not? Are the politicians right nowdays — that they ought to follow a “power” line in poltics, and not agree so rapidly to all the demands of the West?
SHEVARDNADZE: You know, at that time the threat of a new World War really existed. I saw that, I felt that. And nuclear war and nuclear weapons — that’s not an ordinary war. Now people don’t remember often about it but at that time everybody was yelling: We are going to a nuclear catastrophe, we’ll all die. Or the unification of Germany. … Now people judge the situation differently but at that time a huge group of our armed forces was located there in the middle of Europe. And in the background — mass demonstrations for unification of Germany that could easily grow into serious collisions. And that’s a real threat of the third World War. Now time has passed and some things look different. That happens.
JULIA: And as to “internal” perestroika and the breakdown of the Soviet Union, do you wish you could re-do it somehow?
SHEVARDNADZE: What concerns perestroika in the country, I think we could chose another way. The formation of new states — that’s an irrevisible process. Sooner or later that would happen anyway. But we could have moved towards confederation, except that, as a result of the coup, everything collapsed. And I don’t know if it’s worth regretting that now.
JULIA: Don’t you think that Russia now is pursuing a “power” policy towards the former republics? As well as towards the autonomous regions.
SHEVARDNADZE: Now, I wouldn’t say that. Well, there were some excesses. Events in Abkhasia, for instance. I don’t want to speak about that now, to dig out the role of Russia in that conflict. Anyway that is a well-known fact.
JULIA: What concerns Russia, it is difficult to evaluate what happened in Chechenya.
SHEVARDNADZE: From the very beginning I stated that it was an internal affair of Russia. No one country will compromise with its own breakdown.
JULIA: What is the future for Abkhazia? How will the situation develop?
SHEVARDNADZE: Well, we can’t chose a military way to solve the problem. We are looking for peaceful ways but unfortunately the separatist regime doesn’t want to meet us. Honestly speaking, I’m afraid that the process will be drawn out and we’ll get a new splash. So my main goal now is to speed up the peaceful settlement. And, you know, during the Alma-Ata summit all the leaders of the CIS states took on an obligation not to support separatists. No political and no economic relations. Don’t give them the opportunities to use communications, isolate them completely. But Abkhazia uses all these possibilities. They receive electricity from Russia and Georgia pays for it. Now we must pay 50 billions of roubles. And not only electricity — they get everything. And financial support also.
JULIA: From Russia?
SHEVARDNADZE: Let’s say, from different “interested” circles…
JULIA: You tied the dislocation of the Russian military bases in Georgia to getting back the refugees from Abkhazia. I suppose you stated that purposely to speed up events?
SHEVARDNADZE: Sure. That is not a game. That is pure balance of interests. Russia wants to stay in the Caucasus and to have military bases there. And we want to re-establish our territorial integrity. Without Russia it is impossible. So we made a fair agreement.
JULIA: Refugees in the morning, bases in the evening? Let it be so.
SHEVARDNADZE: Let it be…
JULIA: You regard it as absolutely unthinkable that probably it will be necessary to use power?
SHEVARDNADZE: I must do everything not to allow it. We must save Abkhazians. I don’t make any distinction — here are the interests of Georgians and here are those of Abkhazians. Abkhazians are also my people who are living on the territory of Georgia. I can’t permit the elimination of Abkhaz nation. It’s hard even to think about it. But, mind you, anything can happen. The conflict can burn out spontaneously. That’s why we must hurry. That is with the interests of Abkhazians.
JULIA: Today you are the only active politician of the members of the “perestroika team”. All the others live more or less quietly. Why did you return to Georgia, load yourself with all that horror of unsolvable problems. You could stay here, in Moscow, greet all kinds of foreign guests in your Association of International Policy, travel abroad.
SHEVARDNADZE: Yes, everything looked very attractive. After my resignation I traveled across the United States, delivered lectures. You know how much I was paid for one lecture? Twenty five thousands dollars.
JULIA: And what do you have now?
SHEVARDNADZE: Well, that’s not the matter. For me the greatest happiness is to be with my people during the hard times.
JULIA: The Georgian opposition now lays claims to you: Why did we fight for independence if later Georgia joined the CIS and now volunterily recognizes itself [as in?] the “zone of the influence of Russia”? In 1992, when you went back, you also intended to orientate to the West. And now vice a versa. Only to Russia. Why?
SHEVARDNADZE: Because the politics is the “art of what is possible”
JULIA: In that case what does it mean to be a politician?
SHEVARDNADZE: I think that the politicians must be fair persons. If I succeeded in some things in my relations with the East or West, it is only because they trusted me. I never turned anybody down. The situation in Georgia now is so hard that the leader could easily be asked “to leave the room”. That is what the opposition is doing now. But most of my compatriots believe me. I want to think that is because they understand me, consider me to be an honest man, and believe me.
JULIA: Recently, you required Mkhedrioni to hand their weapons over to the state police. Do you think that this act can be successful?
SHEVARDNADZE: Yes, they are doing that already. Earlier that was impossible to do but now the police and security are strong, and only they must be responsible for the order in the country.
JULIA: Those persons who were together with you in some risky situations (for example, in Sukhumy during the heavy shelling) say that you don’t have any fear at all.
SHEVARDNADZE: I don’t know, it’s probably abnormal but I truly don’t have any fear.
JULIA: Did you decide for yourself when it would be time to retire? For example, when they return Abkhazia that will be all over.
SHEVARDNADZE: Honestly, I would like to retire today. But it’s not the time yet. When I returned here, Georgia was in complete isolation. In one month the foreign states started to recognize us, to establish diplomatic relations. They trusted: Shevardnadze said he would build up a democratic state. Maybe it will sound immodest but, thanks to my home-coming, Georgia got a lot. With all the tragic losses they didn’t lose perspective