Ex-President predicts major NATO-Russia conflict as he warns only force can stop Putin

Putin 'planning mass intrusion into Ukraine' says Saakashvili

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He also warned the Russian President that Ukraine will become his “Slavic Afghanistan”. Mikheil Saakashvili was the President of Georgia in 2008, when Russian forces invaded the country in response to his decision to send the Georgian army into the rebellious province of South Ossetia. The conflict lasted five days and ended with Russian forces coming within striking distance of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

He also has an intimate knowledge of Ukraine, serving as the Governor of the Odessa Oblast from May 2015 until November 2016.

Mr Saakashvili said Western sanctions alone would not defeat the Russian tyrant and that military force was the key to bringing about his downfall.

He told Express.co.uk: “You defeat Putin only by military means. Sanctions can help but sanctions alone cannot do the job.”

He added: “Putin will not stop until he is stopped. He will not succeed in Ukraine – it is his Slavic Afghanistan.”

The West has imposed a wide ranging series of economic measures against Russia, in retaliation for the invasion.

These have targeted key sectors of the Russian economy, as well as individuals with close ties to the Kremlin.

The White House said the measures have made Russia “a global economic and financial pariah” and that the decision to attack Ukraine will be come to be seen as a major “strategic failure”.

However, Western leaders have rejected calls for NATO to implement a no-fly zone around Ukraine, despite impassioned pleas from President Volodymr Zelensky.

NATO leaders are fearful such a move risks escalating tensions that could lead to global war.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general, warned the introduction of a no-fly zone could lead to a “full-fledged war in Europe involving many more countries and causing much more human suffering”.

Mr Saakashivili believes this decision is simply a case of postponing the inevitable.

He said: “Eventually NATO will have to get involved.”

The former Georgian President criticised the West for failing to learn the lessons of Russia’s 2008 invasion of his country.

Many experts believe the Russo-Georgian war paved the way for Mr Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and his land grab of the Donbas in 2014, as well as the current invasion of Ukraine.

It is a view that is shared by Mr Saakashvili. He explained: “The West didn’t want to believe that Putin is capable of unleashing war even after he did it.

“They tried to play the game, sharing the game between the aggressor and the victim.”

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The 53-year-old returned to his home country at the beginning of October last year to try to boost opposition support ahead of municipal elections.

The opposition leader was promptly arrested and charged with abusing his power for his role in suppressing a 2007 protest.

He has branded the charges as “politically motivated” and went on a 50-day hunger strike to protest his treatment in jail.

Still in prison, Mr Saakashvili has started a new hunger strike, as he continues to protest his innocence.

He told Express.co.uk: “I had a hunger strike for 50 days, almost died because I was tortured and was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in parallel, and was left with heavy neurological condition and PTSD. Now I am on a new hunger strike.”

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