- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008


The conflict in Georgia is raising troubling questions about American foreign policy in the region. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, America championed the transformation of the former nations within the Soviet Empire into independent, democratic republics. President Bush has gone further than any of his predecessors in seeking to overturn the long-held “spheres of influence” that had been established during the Cold War. The Bush administration has supported the integration of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and has promoted the establishment of a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland. These measures have been rightly championed as a means of establishing a new world order in which the nations that have been historically subjugated by Russia could embark on a path of self-determination and could enter the Western orbit. But are American good intentions enough? Mr. Bush now faces the supreme test of his policy, as Russia throws down the gauntlet.

Russian leaders have repeatedly voiced their opposition to the West’s attempt to encroach on their sphere. The Kremlin has worked to undermine NATO expansion - and won a victory during the Bucharest summit in April when both Georgia’s and Ukraine’s efforts to begin the process of entry into NATO were rejected. Russian ire was fueled in July when the Bush administration signed an agreement with the Czech Republic to implement a missile defense system against rogue states. In retaliation, gas exports to the Czech Republic from Russia declined by 40 percent. Russia warned that this was a “big mistake.” Moscow has also long been threatening Ukrainian leaders not to forge closer links to the West. The pro-Western Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko accused Moscow of attempting to poison him with dioxin while he was in opposition in 2004; he now has a badly disfigured face. Since the early 1990s Russia has worked to undermine the territorial integrity of Georgia by supporting the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. By launching the recent military campaign in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and beyond, the Russians are sending their most forceful message to date: This is our backyard; stay out or else.

America is thus far proceeding with moral clarity. Mr. Bush has condemned Russian actions in Georgia as “unacceptable” and “brutal.” Mr. Bush supports French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s mediation efforts. Both Russia and Georgia have accepted a cease-fire and have agreed to return their troops to the pre-conflict boundaries. Yet, in a press conference yesterday afternoon, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed that Russia has yet to uphold its end of the agreement and the evidence is “not encouraging.” The Bush administration is rejecting Russian calls for regime change in Georgia and is standing by the embattled Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Miss Rice stated that there will be severe international consequences for Russian deeds. She will be traveling to Georgia in a show of solidarity. The United States is insisting that all air, land and sea routes be open to American humanitarian efforts; American air and naval power will be used to this end.

Miss Rice stated that “this is not 1968” when Czechoslovakia was abandoned to the invading Russians and that “things have changed.” The U.S. can insist on diplomatic repercussions and can threaten to throw Russia out of the Group of Eight (G8) and other international bodies. Yet, this may not be enough to thwart Russian ambitions. NATO must be bolstered in order to prepare for future military challenges to American and EU policy.

As the world watches who will win the medal contest in the Beijing Olympics, a far more significant showdown between Russia and America is taking place. The fate of Europe hangs in the balance. Resolve and strength by America and its EU allies will remain essential.

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