Former Putin advisor says: "President Saakashvili's decision to move against Tskhinvali "was self-defense, though it was quite a risky self defence"

"Currently a senior fellow with the Washington-based Cato Institute, [Andrei Illarionov ] Putin's former senior economic advisor in 2000-2005 said that contrary to how it is being portrayed, the conflict did not begin on 7 August 2008, but was carefully planned and built up since the spring of 2004, when the Russian authorities started supplying South Ossetia and Abkhazia with military equipment and training their military forces, building military bases and strategic highways and railroads.

"The build up culminated with the amassing of 80,000 regular troops and paramilitaries close to the Georgian border, at least 60,000 of which participated in the August war," he explained.

"On 7 August it is estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 Ossetian and Russian troops and 240 tanks were in South Ossetia," he said, adding that the Georgian army has altogether 29,000 troops and 200 tanks, with the main part being stationed to the west facing Abkhazia.

"In the proximity of South Ossetia there were perhaps only 4,000 to 5,000 troops and 42 Georgian tanks," Mr Illarionov said, reminding that president Mikhail Saakashvili declared unilateral ceasefire on 7 August, only to see unprecedented shelling of the Georgian villages in South Ossetia that night.

"All of a sudden they understood that if the Ossetian-Russian troops move, it could be a matter of hours for them to get to Tbilisi."

President Saakashvili's decision to move against Tskhinvali "was self-defense, though it was quite a risky self defence," Mr Illarionov said.

"Saakashvili had received a very clear signal from the West - that America and Europe would not help. Even if the US would have decided to help, it was completely unrealistic, because it would have taken at least two weeks to deploy the very first troops. And it was very clear that 2 weeks was too late to defend Georgia. That is why he took this decision, clearly understanding that he would be left alone in front of Russia," he explained."

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