Russian troops, armor and aircraft invaded Georgian territory today in the restive ‘South Ossetia’ region of northern Georgia. The attack was in response to Georgia’s capture yesterday of the separatist-held regional capital, Tskhinvali (map). Russia has long supported the separatists and wants to annex the region. Georgia’s strong alliance with the United States, desire to join NATO and basing of U.S. military trainers has antagonized Russia since Georgia achieved independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.
Georgia is the third largest contributor of troops (2000) in Iraq after the U.S. and Britain. Georgia announced the immediate withdrawal of 1000 troops to face the fighting back home.
CNN’s Johnathan Mann interviewed Georgia’s President, Mikhail Saakashvili. The compelling video is here (Georgian president speaks). Composed and speaking fluent English, Saakashvili was frankly inspiring:
Q: What should the United States and the West do now?
A: Wake up. Wake up. What is happening now is not about Georgia, it’s about the basic values the West has, the basic values that the U.S. has always preached to us. We are a small country. We are attacked because we wanted to be free. We are attacked because we wanted to build genuine democracy. We are attacked because we built a non-corrupt, free enterprise society that is prospering and thriving. We are under attack because we never wanted to accept the old corrupt rules of the game and wanted to be close to the West and go into the Western fold where we believe we belong – into the European fold. If Americans and Europeans don’t stand up for their own values, for their own principles, then those principles and values will be in danger – today in Georgia, tomorrow elsewhere. And this will be a never ending story.
Q: What would you ask U.S. President George Bush to do right now for your people?
A: Look, we are in the same situation as Finland was in 1939 when Stalin’s brutal dictatorship attacked because it wanted a piece of Finnish territory. We are in the same situation Afghanistan was in 1979. It took the courage of Ronald Reagan to reverse the Soviet adventures in Afghanistan. Looks like the adventures are back, and peace is endangered again, and human rights and freedom are in grave danger again. President Bush always said Georgia is a beacon of liberty, a successful case of his whole freedom agenda. But we didn’t do it for him, we did it for our own people – we believe in democracy, we believe in freedom. You know, I went to University in America and I was always taught that America stands up for its freedoms, and America always helps freedom loving countries. This is the moment of truth for everybody, for President Bush, for the United States, the rest of the Western world and for all of us – are we are willing to stand up for our own ideals? Are we willing to fight for freedom? Are we willing to protect people who deserve to be protected? … This is really a crucial moment in history for Europe, and high time to wake up for everyone.
Seems to me that Russia is in clear violation of international law. The United States should fully support Georgia and not relent until every Russian soldier has withdrawn from Georgian soil. Russia is a serial bad actor on the world stage, and must not be allowed to bully its smaller neighbors. What do we stand for if not for freedom from aggressive tyranny for ourselves and our allies?