“As I write, Russia is waging war on my country,” Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili begins his Wall Street Journal op-ed. He continues:
On Friday, hundreds of Russian tanks crossed into Georgian territory, and Russian air force jets bombed Georgian airports, bases, ports and public markets. Many are dead, many more wounded. This invasion, which echoes Afghanistan in 1979 and the Prague Spring of 1968, threatens to undermine the stability of the international security system. …
No country of the former Soviet Union has made more progress toward consolidating democracy, eradicating corruption and building an independent foreign policy than Georgia. This is precisely what Russia seeks to crush.
The facts on the ground since Friday support Saakashvili’s claim. Despite the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the disputed South Ossetia territory and Georgia’s offer for a cease fire, Russian tanks are closing in on the central Georgian city of Gori, Russia has bombed Georgia’s capitol Tblisi, and Russian paratroopers in the disputed Abkhazia region have crossed over into undisputed Georgian territory. When asked during an emergency UN Security Council meeting if Russia’s objective was “regime change in Georgia,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin replied: “Sometimes there are occasions when, and we know from history, there are different leaders who come to power either democratically or semi-democratically … and they become an obstacle.”
This statement is only remarkable in its frankness. Russia has supported separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia for years, even appointing Russian security officers to arm and administer the groups. Moscow even granted the majority of Abkhazs and South Ossetians Russian citizenship, effectively enacting a creeping annexation of these territories. This is a slippery slope designed to redraw the borders of the former Soviet empire. And the effort is not confined to Georgia. Last spring Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke about Russia “dismembering” Ukraine, another NATO candidate, and detaching the Crimea, a peninsula that was transferred from Russia to Ukraine when both were integral parts of the Soviet Union.
Georgia has repeatedly sent soldiers to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 2,000 troops that were patrolling the Iraqi border with Iran are now being sent back to Georgia with U.S. help. But the United States must do more. America and its allies need to demand that Russia withdraw all its troops from the territory of Georgia and recognize its territorial integrity. Heritage senior research fellow Ariel Cohen suggests talks ought to start in a neutral forum, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to finally settle the South Ossetian and Abkhazian problems. This can be done by granting these territories full autonomy within the Georgian state, as Tbilisi has repeatedly suggested.
Beyond this, the United States, its allies and other countries need to send a strong signal to Moscow that redrawing the borders of the former Soviet Union is a danger to world peace; it cannot be done without violation of international law; and it is likely to result in death and destruction — a price that neither the Russian people nor others should pay.
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