- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Russia agreed on Tuesday to halt military action in Georgia. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are merely stalling as they accept to halt military action but demand the withdrawal of Georgian troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They are also calling for regime change. The Kremlin seeks to undermine Georgia and gradually gain dominance over the nations that were part of the former Soviet Union. The Russians are on the march toward imperialism and must be stopped.

The recent hostilities have been carefully engineered by Moscow over the course of many years. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remained within the sovereign territory of Georgia but were autonomous. In March 2008, when South Ossetia declared independence, only Russia offered recognition. By supporting independence movements in Georgia, Russia has attempted to ensure that its Georgian neighbor would have a rocky transition to democracy and Western integration. Moscow has stepped up its attempt to undermine Georgia since the latter has sought to become a NATO member.

Last week, when Georgian troops at last tried to claim jurisdiction over South Ossetia in an attempt to quell rising tensions, the Kremlin saw this as a golden opportunity. A bombing campaign and military mobilization within the last five days have resulted in a large Russian military presence in Georgia - one that is so threatening that Georgian leaders lament that the nation has been cut in half. President Bush rightly called the military escalation “unacceptable.” Mr. Saakashvili stated at a news conference on Monday: “We are in the process of the invasion, occupation and annihilation of an independent, democratic country.”

Mr. Medvedev stated on Russian television that Georgia has been “punished” and that any other hotbeds of resistance or aggressive actions will be destroyed. Furthermore, Russia’s foreign minister has called for Mr. Saakashvili to resign. In essence, Moscow seeks to transform Georgia into a satellite state.

The West has an opportunity to send a signal both to Russia and to the region that the Soviet era is over. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who also leads the EU, has insisted that both Russia and Georgia withdraw to the positions they had before the conflict. The EU should be even firmer: Russian troops have demonstrated that they cannot function as “peacekeepers” in the region. These troops should be replaced by U.N. peacekeepers to ensure the safety of the citizens of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and to prevent future conflagrations. The West must insist that there will be no regime change in Georgia, nor will efforts to integrate Georgia into NATO come to an end. This is a defining moment in the region.

Russia and Georgia have agreed to a cease-fire. But, as the world continues to watch the carnage taking place, words will not stop the bombing and the violence. Only implementing the cease-fire will accomplish that. It will not be easy for Georgia or Russia.

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