Russia's brazen blitzkrieg-syle military attacks on the independent and democratic state of Georgia warrant worldwide condemnation, and much more. In the past few days, Moscow has conveniently used Georgia's internal dispute with the unrecognized breakaway territory of South Ossetia (which desires to split away from George and join the Russian Federation) to use disproportionate Russian military force to settle once and for all its political score with its former Soviet satellite. Russia's goal: to shatter Georgia's territorial integrity by supporting the rebellious and separatist Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and the other breakaway territory of Abkhazia and orchestrate a Soviet-style putsch against Georgia's pro-western government. Meanwhile in New York, Russia is doing everything possible to prevent the UN Security Council from passing any reasonable resolution urging restraint and a cease fire in order to buy it as much time as possible to complete its mission against Georgia's pro-western leadership.
What lies behind Russia's use of the age old canard that it is merely making aggressive war to preserve the peace? Nothing less than Vladamir Putin's ruthless determination to overthrow the democratically elected (and U.S. - educated) president of Georgia - Mikhail Saakashvili, and to prevent Georgia from becoming a member of NATO. Indeed, Moscow wasted no time in making it clear that it will settle for nothing less than the removal of Saakashvili and part of its demands to agree to a cessation of hostilities. Not since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has Russia sought to overthrow a foreign government by military force.
It is absurd to suggest that Putin or his presidential puppet Medvedev have any leg to stand on.
Putin has proven an expert at waging scorched earth war against his democratic adversaries both inside and outside of Russia. After all, he proved his ruthlessness and KGB bona fides by subjugating Chechnya several years ago and has begun recently churning up trouble in Ukraine against its democratically elected, pro-western leader. Putin has made it abundantly clear that Russia will do anything and everything possible to suffocate Georgia's drive to join NATO and the European Union. Moreover, Putin wants to get his hands on the international Caspian Sea oil pipeline that traverses Georgia and which is the only oil pipeline from Asia that is outside Russia's control.
If these were Russian internal disputes, well, then, it would be hard to mobilize effective international reaction. But neither South Ossetia nor Abkhazia are integral parts of the Russian Federation. To the contrary, they are part of Georgia even though they desire to be annexed by Russia.
Why should a neighborhood brawl of this type matter to the rest of the world?
First, if Moscow succeeds in overthrowing Saakashvili, it portends a dangerous deterioration in Russia's relations with the west. Georgia will be the test case whether a democratically elected pro-western government of a former Soviet satellite will be permitted to be swallowed up by the Russian bear. If Georgia is annexed de facto back into Putin's clutches, well, then, other former Soviet satellites that are now western democracies (Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic Republics) will be increasingly defenseless against Russian designs if Georgia is broken apart.
Second, the "frozen conflicts" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia illustrate how a failure of active international diplomacy can reignite a new Cold War. These territorial disputes (akin to the disintegration of Yugoslavia) have been simmering for many years, virtually ignored by the UN or by the west, and they were bound to convulse. Left to their own devices, pro-Putin provocateurs in these territories are bound to take matters into their own hands and instigate conflicts that can dangerously escalate with unanticipated consequences.
The sad reality is that short of some manifestation of forceful western reaction against Russia's aggression there is very little that Washington or our European allies can do. No matter when a ceasefire occurs with or without a Security Council resolution, we must do everything possible to protect Saakashvili's government. To do anything less would constitute a disaster of enormous proportions for the United States and the cause of democracy in eastern Europe and other former Soviet republics that have rejected Putin's brand of authoritarianism.
In the annals of U.S.-Russian relations, Secretary of State Rice has proven once again to be not up to the task at effectively managing the one area of foreign policy that is her principal area of expertise -- U.S.-Russian relations. The sad situation in Georgia has been a powder keg for years, and as with other trouble spots that have erupted on her watch, Rice and her team have been unwilling to do the heavy lifting of diplomacy to try to prevent such dangerous situations from escalating. No preventive diplomacy here.
Georgia and its democratic government deserve concerted international support. That support must include a willingness to impose more than merely symbolic costs on Russia, including:
1. A UN Security Council resolution that condemns Russia irrespective of an expected Russian veto.
2. A NATO-led airlift of military and medical supplies to Georgia's military.
3. Mobilization of a UN peacekeeping force to substitute Russian so-called peacekeepers on the Georgia-Russian border, here again, notwithstanding a threatened Russian veto.
4. Consistent and vocal diplomatic support for Georgia's president, including condemnation of any call by Russia's leadership demanding Saakashvili's removal.
Russia is determined to have its way in Georgia...and it will be determined to have its way in the Baltics, Ukraine, Poland and Iran if its actions are not met with tough diplomacy.
Follow Amb. Marc Ginsberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ambmcg