|Putin Punishes Georgia
Copyright August 11, 2008
hen Georgia's pro-Western president Mikhail Saakashvili decided to send the army into South Ossetia to quell a pro-Russian separatist movement, it gave Russia's former president and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin the green light to attack the once Soviet territory. Putin responded with a devastating air, land and sea barrage killing thousands of civilians and leaving thousands more fleeing for their lives. While Saakashvili promised to withdraw Georgian forces from South Ossetia, Putin seized the opportunity to degrade Georgia's military and infrastructure. Russia wants Saakashvili out and new pro-Russian leadership in. Saakashvili hoped to stave off the Russian onslaught by inviting foreign ministers from France and Finland. Russia's aerial bombardment around the Tblisi airport missed the foreign ministers by only 30 minutes. Saakashvili should have told them to stay away.
South Ossetia broke off from Georgia in 1992, remaining loyal and politically attached to Russia. Saakashvili badly miscalculated Russian intent, ordering U.S.-trained Georgian forces to take back the disputed region with a military assault beginning Friday, Aug. 8. “We have made it clear to the Russians that if the disproportionate and dangerous escalation on the Russian side continues, that this will have a significant long-term impact on U.S.-Russian relations,” U.S. deputy national security adviser Jim Jeffrey told reporters. It's no accident that Russia seized the opportunity secure its status in South Ossetia, already threatened by the U.S. in Eastern Europe, especially Poland and the Czech Republic where President George W. Bush promised to install a missile defense system. Putin warned Bush June 7, 2007 about cutting missile defense deals in Eastern Europe.
Putin views the Caucasus statesincluding Georgiaaround the Black Sea as a buffer zone to Russia. U.S. military support for Saakashvili, a U.S. educated graduate of Columbia and George Washington University Law School, antagonized Putin, viewing the 40-year-old Georgian president as a U.S. puppet. His decision to invade South Ossetia was a foolish power-grab, demonstrating deafness to Russian intent to repel any encroachment or invasion. “Georgia expresses it readiness to immediately start negotiations with the Russian Federation on a ceasefire and termination of hostilities,” said the Georgian Foreign Ministry in tersely worded statement. Saakashvili has got it backwards: Georgia is in no position to negotiate or dictate terms to the Russian Federation. United States' U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad speculated Moscow was seeking “regime change.”
When Bush decided that installing missile defense in Eastern Europe was more important than relations with Moscow, he closed the door on diplomacy. Moscow won't be lectured by the U.S. about military action, especially since the U.S. invaded Iraq for preemptive reasons. Unlike Iraq, Russia had a vested interest in South Ossetia, defending its autonomy against Georgian aggression. “Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States,” said Vice President Dick Cheney, the primary architect to the Iraq War. Cheney lost all his credibility staking his reputation on the U.S. finding weapons of mass destruction. He lacks the moral authority lecture Moscow or threaten consequences should they not follow U.S. policy. Moscow was most forgiving about the U.S. miscalculation in Iraq.
Bush, an avid sports enthusiast, preferred watching swimming phenom Michael Phelps win his first gold medal, rather than return to the White House to manage a potentially dangerous international crisis. “I was very firm with Vladimir Putin,” said Bush. “Hopefully this will get resolved peacefully,” either oblivious to the thousands already killed or to Russia's geopolitical interest in South Ossetia. Russia, China, France and Germany also expressed grave reservations in 2002-03 to Bush before the U.S. invaded Iraq. International cooperation works both ways, where trust is built over reciprocal relationships. Putin, or Russia's new president Dimitry Medvedev, did nothing different that U.S. foreign policy in Iraq or Afghanistan, ordering the military to protect national security. Asking Putin to cease-and-desist in South Ossetia is like the pot calling the kettle black.
Georgian President Saakashvili badly miscalculated Russian reaction to his military action in South Ossetia. Because Russia views Saakashvili as a U.S. puppet meddling in the region, the U.S. has limited options trying to save the Georgian regime. Whether Georgia is an ally or not doesn't absolve Saakashvili from getting along with Russian and not miscalculating the consequences of precipitous military action. It's not up to the U.S. to save Saakashvili, or, for that matter, to threaten Moscow hinting, as Cheney indicated, “Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States.” Moscow's reaction is a serious consequence to Iraq, Afghanistan and to Bush and Cheney cutting missile deals in Eastern Europe with Boeing. Before the U.S. lectures or threatens Russia, they should take an honest inventory of recent events.
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