Georgia leader ramps up rhetoric in verbal war with Russia
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has resorted to increasingly fiery language as his conflict with Russia unfolded, comparing Moscow to Nazi Germany and accusing Russian soldiers of looting toilet seats.
Saakashvili, a media darling whose passionate pro-Western speeches have irritated Russia, has looked strained and edgy as since the conflict flared on August 7. His language has likewise become increasingly thunderous.
Speaking on CBS on Wednesday, he said Russian troops were rampaging through his country setting up concentration camps.
"Russian tanks are ... throwing people out of the houses, pushing people into concentration camps.". Russian forces, he said, were moving towards the capital Tbilisi.
"These are regular Russian troops, they go into houses, they destroy houses, there is all this documentary footage around that can prove it ... They are taking things like furniture, toilet seats, killing people, terrorizing people."
He has attacked the West for being soft on Russia, drawing parallels with Europe's appeasement policy towards Nazi Germany.
"It (Western reaction) has not been adequate. They're talking about a negotiated ceasefire, how this side should do this, this side should do that - it's appeasement," he told a conference call. "Appeasement in 1938 brought tens of millions of deaths to Europe."
Russia denied making any move on the capital and said its troops were not involved in any looting.
As the war of words raged, Russia used its own public relations weapons to slam Georgia, accusing Saakashvili of "genocide" and seeking "bloody adventures".
Russian media have portrayed him in sharply negative light, calling him "aggressor" and other names usually reserved to describe Adolf Hitler in Russian history textbooks.
Visibly irritated in an interview with CNN, Saakashvili lashed out at the suggestion that Georgia started the conflict. "I'm sickened, sickened of this cynical and absolutely unfounded allegation," he said.
He stepped up the rhetoric further at a briefing in Tbilisi on Wednesday, saying: "What we are seeing is classical Balkan type and World War Two type of ethnic cleansing."
Pro-Moscow rebel leaders in South Ossetia and Abkhazia have not been modest with their expressions either.
"That is called schizophrenia and what can you say to a schizophrenic?" said Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba, referring to Saakashvili. "There is a different question of who there is to talk to, when it's clear that he is a sick man."
One senior Western diplomat in Moscow told Reuters he found most of Saakashvili's interviews over past days unconvincing.
"When you really look at some of Saakashvili's interviews given to television channels in the West, do you think he is really winning the information war?" the diplomat said.
"He looked, how should I say it, somewhat stressed in those interviews. I am not sure he really came across that well."
In one incident carried widely on Russian television, a visibly distressed Saakashvili, wearing a flak jacket, was thrown to the ground by bodyguards and rushed to safety after they said a Russian aircraft had appeared above the city.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who was with him on the trip, did not wear a flak jacket.
Separately, Saakashvili cut off a conference call after an operator said Russian planes were bombing his palace. Palace officials told Reuters they noticed nothing unusual at the time.
Speaking during the Wednesday conference call, he accused Russia of using "weapons of mass destruction" to damage Georgia.
"They've tried to cut off energy lines, using their Iskander missiles against pipelines. CNN qualifies them as missiles of mass destruction," he said. "They also want to punish our democracy, and that's where we find ourselves now."
Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting oil pipelines and the international firms operating them have not reported any damage.
(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Conor Sweeney in Moscow, Oliver Bullough in Abkhazia; editing by Ralph Boulton)
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