Ge­or­gia in peril

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The pro-West­ern Ge­or­gian gov­ern­ment bor­der­ing Rus­sia needs the as­sis­tance of the West in or­der to com­bat Rus­sia’s grow­ing as­sault on its ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity. The new Rus­sian pres­i­dent, Dmitry Medvedev, promised in his in­au­gu­ral speech on May 7 to gov­ern with a softer hand — es­pe­cially to show greater re­spect for civil lib­er­ties and hu­man rights. He will im­me­di­ately face a test in the oil-rich Cau­ca­sus as ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and Ge­or­gia con­tinue to es­ca­late over the sta­tus of the break­away, au­ton­o­mous re­publics of Abk­hazia and South Os­se­tia. Will Mr. Medvedev demon­strate to Rus­sia’s neigh­bors that he will re­spect their sovereignty or will he con­tinue Vladimir Putin’s im­pe­ri­al­is­tic poli­cies?

Abk­hazia and South Os­se­tia se­ceded from Ge­or­gia in the early 1990s fol­low­ing Ge­or­gia’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from the Soviet Union. The United Na­tions re­gards the au­ton­o­mous re­publics as the sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory of Ge­or­gia. Con­trary to Rus­sian claims, the re­publics do not have a ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion of Rus­sian na­tives, nor are the peo­ple’s rights and free­doms vi­o­lated by re­main­ing within Ge­or­gia. In or­der to settle the dis­pute, the Ge­or­gian gov­ern­ment has of­fered gen­er­ous terms to Abk­hazia and South Os­se­tia. Yet Moscow con­tin­ues to med­dle.

At the heart of the mat­ter is whether Ge­or­gia will be per­mit­ted to de­velop along a West­ern tra­jec­tory. The United States has been work­ing to in­te­grate Ge­or­gia into NATO — a move that has been hotly con­tested by the Krem­lin. In last month’s NATO sum­mit in Bucharest, Ger­many bowed to Rus­sian pres­sure and nixed giv­ing Ge­or­gia and Ukraine a “mem­ber­ship ac­tion plan” which would put them on the road to NATO mem­ber­ship. Both Ge­or­gia and Ukraine are de­ter­mined to es­cape the Rus­sian or­bit and face re­cur­ring in­ter­fer­ence from Moscow.

In the case of Ge­or­gia, the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment is de­lib­er­ately wreck­ing havoc in or­der to desta­bi­lize the coun­try and there­fore pre­vent it from be­ing placed on a West­ern track; its en­try into NATO is con­sid­ered a threat to Rus­sian in­ter­ests. Fol­low­ing the NATO sum­mit in Bucharest, the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, led by then­Pres­i­dent Putin ini­ti­ated a se­ries of ac­tions en­gi­neered to pro­vide greater sup­port to the break­away re­gions of Abk­hazia and South Os­se­tia: The Rus­sians in­creased their troop de­ploy­ments and de­clared they would co­op­er­ate with the cit­i­zens in the dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries in or­der to im­prove their le­gal struc­tures, trade and econ­omy. The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment has is­sued pass­ports to the in­hab­i­tants of Abk­hazia and South Os­se­tia and per­mits them to vote in Rus­sian elec­tions.

Ge­or­gian Pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvili, in power since 2003, has been warn­ing the West that the Krem­lin is at­tempt­ing to pro­voke war. Last month, a Rus­sian plane shot down an un­manned Rus­sian spy drone over Abk­hazia — which is Ge­or­gian air space. The Rus­sians are also threat­en­ing to send more troops into the re­gion based on false accu- sa­tions that Ge­or­gians are es­ca­lat­ing their troop de­ploy­ments.

Lead­ers of EU coun­tries have re­cently vis­ited Ge­or­gia in a show of sol­i­dar­ity. How­ever, the onus for strong ac­tion rests on the United States and on NATO. In or­der to fore­stall a war and Rus­sian ex­pan­sion, the U.S. and its West­ern al­lies should de­nounce Rus­sia and in­sist that they with­draw their troops. It is also im­per­a­tive to con­vene an emer­gency meet­ing of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil — as the Ge­or­gian gov­ern­ment has re­quested. In ad­di­tion, the U.S. should ex­pand its mil­i­tary ad­vi­sory role in Ge­or­gia.

For the West, what is at stake is not just the fate of two dis­tant, tiny au­ton­o­mous re­publics. Rather, the is­sue is whether Rus­sia’s neigh­bors will at last be able to de­ter­mine their own fate with­out hav­ing to con­tend with in­ces­sant Rus­sian bul­ly­ing. If the West pro­vides timely as­sis­tance to a pro-West­ern na­tion such as Ge­or­gia, Moscow will at last un­der­stand that its im­pe­rial days are over.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.