London, Nov 14 : French President Nicolas Sarkozy saved the President of Georgia from being hanged "by the balls" - a threat made last summer by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
According to an account that emerged on Thursday from the lysee Palace, Putin had revealed his plans for disposing of Saakashvili when Sarkozy was in Moscow in August to broker a ceasefire in Georgia, The Times reported.
Jean-David Levitte, Sarkozy's chief diplomatic adviser, reported the exchange in a news magazine before EU-Russia summit today. The French leader and President Dmitry Medvedev will chair the meeting.
With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Sarkozy told Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia's Government. According to Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," Putin declared.
Sarkozy thought he had misheard. "Hang him?" - he asked. "Why not?" Putin replied. "The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein."
Sarkozy tried to reason with him: "Yes but do you want to end up like President Bush?" Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: "Ah - you have scored a point there."
Saakashvili, who was in Paris to meet Sarkozy yesterday, laughed nervously when a French radio station read him the exchange. "I knew about this scene, but not all the details. It's funny, all the same," he said.
Putin's remarks confirmed that he was calling the shots in Moscow and not Medvedev, who was Sarkozy's official host at the Kremlin meeting, The Times reported.
The language was in keeping with Putin's fondness for coarse imagery: In 1999 he vowed to chase down Chechen separatists wherever they were - "we will rub them out in their s***houses," he said.
In Brussels in 2002 he threatened a French journalist with circumcision - remarks that the news conference interpreter failed to translate.
Sarkozy's team leaked their exchange to bolster their claim that the French President's intervention saved Georgia - or at least its leader - from further torment.