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EDITORIAL: Bulldogging Georgia
The Obama administration’s “reset” of relations with Moscow has caused understandable nervousness in countries on Russia’s periphery. Not helping matters much is Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” Among states that won their freedom after the Soviet collapse, there is justifiable concern that they might be subjects of the Evil Empire again one day.
The Republic of Georgia, which sits on Russia’s southern border, has more reason to worry than most. Russian troops occupy Georgian territory in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and in August 2008, the two countries fought a brief military conflict. Now the buzz in the Russian press is over the “unfinished business” in Georgia, and the Russian army looms 40 miles from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
We conducted an exclusive interview yesterday with David Bakradze, chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, before his scheduled meeting with National Security Adviser James L. Jones. He told us that he understood the rationale for the improved relationship between Washington and Moscow, but “even when you press the reset, there are still some programs on your computer.” He expects that the Obama administration will continue to support Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity, a policy adopted under the Clinton administration and continued under President George W. Bush.
Georgia earned U.S. respect and goodwill when it came to American aid when we needed it most. Georgia sent a 2,000-man brigade to support the coalition in Iraq. This commitment was as large as Australia’s. In 2010, Georgia will send a battalion to Afghanistan to serve under American command. At the April 2008 Bucharest summit, the NATO member states assured Tbilisi that eventually Georgia would become part of the alliance.
Russia has shown bad faith in the occupied territories. It has violated the terms of the August 2008 cease-fire agreement by increasing troop levels rather than withdrawing. “South Ossetia is a big military camp,” Mr. Bakradze said. Russia further complicated the situation by extending diplomatic recognition to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which also have been recognized by crony states Venezuela and Nicaragua. Mr. Bakradze was skeptical of Russia’s motives. “What does Russia get out of it?” he said. “Nothing. Political isolation and criticism. Is it something Russia wants? I doubt it.”
Mr. Bakradze told us that continued U.S. support for Georgia was important for the security of both countries. “Supporting democracy is in the interests of all democracies,” he said. The war on terrorism and the use of small states as bases for projecting global terror attacks demonstrates that “there are no remote countries any more.”
The United States also has an interest in helping maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Russia’s neighbors in order not to encourage Moscow’s expansionist tendencies. Russian leaders like Mr. Putin - who bemoan the downfall of the Soviet state - may be tempted to rebuild it. Georgia could wind up like Czechoslovakia in the face of Adolf Hitler’s expansionism, first truncated, then absorbed. And if it happens to Georgia, it could happen to any country.
The case for supporting Georgia is fundamentally based on American ideals. “The leader of the free world does not abandon its friends,” Mr. Bakradze told us. “American diplomacy is more than European-style realpolitik. Yours is a country of values. We share the same values. They are worth defending.”
“In the end, America stands for something,” he said. We fervently hope that this is still true.
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