The farther Russia's tanks roll into Georgia, the more the world is beginning to see the reality of Vladimir Putin's Napoleonic ambitions. Having consolidated his authoritarian transition as Prime Minister with a figurehead President, Mr. Putin is now pushing to reassert Russian dominance in Eurasia. Ukraine is in his sights, and even the Baltic states could be threatened if he's allowed to get away with it. The West needs to draw a line at Georgia.
No matter who fired the first shot last week in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, Moscow is using the separatist issue as an excuse to demolish Georgia's military and, if possible, depose its democratically elected government. Russian forces moved ever deeper into Georgia proper Monday. They launched a second front in the west from another breakaway province, Abkhazia, and took the central city of Gori, which lies 40 miles from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. These moves slice the country in half and isolate its ports, most of which Russia has bombed or blockaded. Moscow dismissed a cease-fire drawn up by European nations and signed by Georgia.
Russian bombers have also hit residential and industrial areas, making a mockery of Moscow's charge that Georgia is the party indiscriminately killing civilians. Russian claims of Georgian ethnic cleansing now look like well-rehearsed propaganda lines to justify a well-prepared invasion. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks, ships and warplanes were waiting for Mr. Putin's command.
While the rape of Chechnya was brutal, this is the most brazen act of Mr. Putin's reign, the first military offensive outside Russia's borders since Soviet rule ended. Yet it also fits a pattern of other threats and affronts to Russia's neighbors: turning off the oil or natural-gas taps to Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and even to NATO-member Lithuania; launching a cyberassault on Estonia; opposing two antimissile sites in NATO members in Eastern Europe that couldn't begin to neutralize Russia's offensive capabilities.
Our emphasis on NATO here is no coincidence. The Georgia invasion is a direct slap at the Western alliance. Tbilisi, like Kiev, has been pushing for NATO membership. Mr. Putin decided to act while some alliance members, led by Germany, dallied over their applications. Georgia was first. Ukraine, which has been pushing Russia to move its Black Sea fleet's headquarters out of the Crimea, could be next.
How the West Can Stand Up to Russia
Given the cutthroat politics Moscow has practiced at home and abroad in recent years -- with only the softest protests from the U.S. and its allies -- no one should be surprised by Russia's decision to conquer the two breakaway regions of Georgia. Nevertheless, it should once and for all disabuse policy makers in Washington and Brussels of hopes that Russia intends to become part of the post-Cold War condominium of democratic peace in Europe. The point of the Kremlin's invasion of Georgia, which now threatens the capital city of Tbilisi, is to demonstrate to the world how impotent that security order has become.
For Moscow, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's mistake in finally taking the bait of Russian provocations and ordering his troops in South Ossetia last week was the opening they sought -- and for which they had been planning for some time.
South Ossetia is not, as some have suggested, tit-for-tat payback for American and European recognition, over Russian objections, of Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Russia has been "at war" with democratic Georgia for some time. Driven to distraction by Mr. Saakashvili's assertiveness and Georgia's desire to join NATO, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin first tried to bring the country to its knees through economic warfare beginning in 2005. He cut off access to Russian markets, expelled Georgians from Russia, quadrupled the price of Russian energy to Georgia, and severed transport links.
Georgia failed to collapse. To the contrary, it has flourished: After the Rose Revolution of 2003 ended the corrupt reign of Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, Georgia instituted far-reaching reforms to its governing structures, cleaned up the endemic corruption that infected every facet of pre-Rose Revolution life, and found new markets for its products in Turkey and Europe. It persevered with some of the most profound and thorough economic and pro-business reforms ever undertaken by a developing country -- slashing taxes and government regulations, and privatizing state-owned enterprises. All of which is reflected in Georgia's meteoric rise on the World Bank's Doing Business indicators. The irrelevance of Russian economic sanctions to Georgia made the ideological challenge that the Rose Revolution posed to Putin's vision of Russia even more profound.....
What can the West do? The first step is for the U.S. and its allies to rush military and medical supplies to Tbilisi. If we want democracy to survive there, Georgians have to believe that we have their backs. At the moment, the tepidness of the Western response has given them serious cause for doubt. In addition, Washington should lead the effort to devise a list of economic and diplomatic sanctions toward Russia that impose real costs for what Moscow has done. Russia should know that the West has a greater capacity to sustain a new Cold War than Russia, with its petroleum-dependent economy, does.
Next, the West should make use of Russia's claim that its role in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is driven by the need to protect the populations there. If so, Moscow should have no objections to U.N.-sanctioned peacekeepers and observers moving into those two regions to replace the jerry-rigged system of "peacekeepers" that, until the war broke out, consisted of Russian troops, local separatist militaries and Georgian forces. If nothing else, the goal should be to put Mr. Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, the new Russian president, on their back foot diplomatically...
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your roundup of Obama news and commentary at OBAMA WATCH