- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

The recent Russian invasion of Georgia signals that the Kremlin has embarked on an expansionist and imperialist foreign policy. Contrary to the expectations that were raised by the election of the new President Dmitry Medvedev in March, there will be no liberal era in Russia. There is instead a return to the policies of the Soviet Union and an attempt by Russia to regain its lost glory. Mr. Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin want to make Georgia an example to its neighbors: If Moscow is defied, there will be severe consequences.

Russia has long been fanning the flames of the conflict that has recently erupted. Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia’s sovereign territory, even though they declared independence in the turmoil that resulted from the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Yet Russia has been encouraging the breakaway provinces and has been provoking the Georgian government into a military conflict. This occurs because Moscow seeks to dominate the former territories of the Soviet Union, to halt Georgia’s attempt to enter NATO and to weaken the prestige of the West.

The Kremlin has been gradually escalating its interference in the Caucasus. Last year, Russians illegally bombed Georgian territory twice. They have also been controlling the government of South Ossetia and even gave its citizens Russian passports. This was a tactic to allow Russia to claim “protection” over “Russian citizens” in South Ossetia. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s decision to send troops into South Ossetia on Thursday was a just and overdue measure in order to ensure the territorial sovereignty of his nation. Yet this is precisely the opportunity the Kremlin has been waiting for. Now the Russians can send overwhelming force into the region - and all the while claim that they are not the aggressors. Moscow is falsely insisting that Mr. Saakashvili has embarked on a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.” This too is reminiscent of Soviet-style propaganda. In fact, Mr. Saakashvili is merely standing up to his bullying neighbor.

President Bush has called for an end to Russian bombings and is rightly accusing the Kremlin of using the conflict to broaden its control over Georgia. It is imperative that the West stand firm against this act of aggression. The current conflict is already claiming the lives of the innocent: Thousands of citizens have died and thousands have been displaced. In facing overwhelming Russian firepower, Mr. Saakashvili is calling for a cease-fire and seeks to resume talks with international mediators on the fate of the tiny province; but Russians continue to mobilize. It is in America’s interest to exert maximum pressure on Russia to withdraw its troops and halt the interference in Georgian territory. This latest act shows the need for greater resolve in establishing a European security system that can be an effective check on Russian power. The United States must proceed quickly along the path of resolving this conflict and then redoubling its efforts to integrate Georgia and Ukraine into NATO - rather than allowing Russia’s appetite to grow.