Nicolas Sarkozy saved the President of Georgia from being hanged "by the balls" -- a threat made last summer by Vladimir Putin, according to an account that emerged yesterday from the Elysee Palace.
The Russian Prime Minister had revealed his plans for disposing of Mr Saakashvili when Mr Sarkozy was in Moscow in August to broker a ceasefire in Georgia.
Jean-David Levitte, Mr Sarkozy's chief diplomatic adviser, reported the exchange in a news magazine before an EU-Russia summit today. The meeting will be chaired by the French leader and President Medvedev.
With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia's Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," Mr Putin declared.
Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. "Hang him?" -- he asked. "Why not?" Mr Putin replied. "The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein."
Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: "Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?" Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: "Ah -- you have scored a point there."