La Russophobe has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Take action now to save Darfur

Friday, July 18, 2008

Americans and Georgians, Shoulder to Shoulder

Reuters reports further evidence on how the Putin regime has totally poisoned Russia's relations with former Soviet allies Ukraine and Georgia. This, if no other reason, justifies exorcising the Putin regime from power, yet the people of Russia stand idly by watching it happen, until they are left just as in Soviet times utterly alone in the world, hellbent on a path to utter destruction.

One thousand U.S. troops began a military training exercise in Georgia on Tuesday against a backdrop of growing friction between Georgia and neighboring Russia. Officials said the exercise, called "Immediate Response 2008," had been planned for months and was not linked to a standoff between Moscow and Tbilisi over the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. "The main purpose of these exercises is to increase the cooperation and partnership between U.S. and Georgian forces," Brigadier General William B. Garrett, commander of the U.S. military's Southern European Task Force, told reporters.

The war games involve 600 Georgian troops and smaller numbers from the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. The two-week exercise was taking place at the Vaziani military base, near Tbilisi, which was a Russian Air Force base until Russian forces withdrew at the start of this decade under a European arms-reduction agreement. Georgia and the Pentagon cooperate closely. Georgia has a 2,000-strong contingent supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, and Washington provides training and equipment to the Georgian military.

Georgia last week recalled its ambassador in Moscow in protest to Russia sending fighter jets into Georgian airspace. Tbilisi urged the West to condemn Russia's actions. Russia said the flights were to prevent Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from launching a military operation against South Ossetia. It was Russia's first admission for at least a decade that its air force had flown over Georgian territory without permission. Georgia has said in the past that Russia trespassed in its airspace, but Moscow has always denied it.

NATO said Tuesday that it was troubled by the Russian overflights, saying they called into question Moscow's role as a peacekeeper and facilitator of talks between Tbilisi and separatists. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged all parties, including Russia, to support Georgian territorial integrity as called for in UN Security Council resolutions, alliance spokesman James Appathurai said. "The secretary-general is concerned by the recent escalation of tension in Georgia, he is troubled by Russia's statement that its military aircraft deliberately overflew Georgian territory in violation of its territorial integrity," Appathurai said. "These actions raise questions about Russia's role as peacekeeper and facilitator of negotiations," he said, speaking on behalf of de Hoop Scheffer.

Early this year, Russia established semiofficial ties with South Ossetia, and Abkhazia and beefed up the peacekeeping forces it has had in Abkhazia since the end of a war in the 1990s. Georgia accused Russia of trying to annex its territory, and Tbilisi's Western allies said Russia was stoking tensions. Russia, angered by Georgia's hopes to join NATO and the European Union, said it acted to defend the breakaway regions from Georgian aggression. The United States on Monday criticized Russia as well for intentionally violating Georgian airspace. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We are deeply troubled by Russia's statement that its military aircraft deliberately violated Georgia's internationally recognized borders." In a statement issued late Monday, McCormack urged all countries, "including Russia," to "support Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders."

The Financial Times calls upon the West to "stand up to Russia":

If proof were needed of the significance of the crisis facing the troubled Caucasus state of Georgia, it came on Tueday with the start of exercises involving 1,000 US troops.

US officials insist the long-planned wargames have nothing to do with the recent dispute between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But they give Washington a chance to support pro-west Tbilisi at a critical time.

The exercises come just after Moscow brazenly admitted sending war planes over South Ossetia last week, allegedly to stop an attack by Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president. While Russia has encroached on Georgian air space many times in supporting Abkhazia and South Ossetia, this was the first time in recent years that it has openly confessed to what was a flagrant violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity. With the action coinciding with a visit to Tbilisi by Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, the message to the west was brutally clear: stay off our turf.

It is a message the US and the European Union must not accept. Russia is not interested in Abkhazia and South Ossetia per se. It has not recognised their independence claims for fear of setting precedents for its own Caucasus minorities. But Moscow is very interested in stopping Georgia developing as a pro-west state – and blocking its bid to join Nato. The west must be equally determined to help Tbilisi follow its chosen course. The problems involved in admitting a fragile state with separatist regions into Nato will take time to resolve. But the direction must be clear.

Georgia matters to the west because it is the current standard-bearer of the democratic revolt against Moscow that began in central Europe in 1989. While the flags of freedom flying in Tbilisi are stained by Mr Saakashvili’s authoritarian lapses, Georgia’s leaders still generally embrace democratic values. Also, Georgia straddles the only non-Russian route taking Caspian oil and gas to world markets. Lose Georgia, and Russia wins an even bigger say over energy supplies. The risks were highlighted by this week’s cut, for technical reasons, in Russian oil flows to the Czech Republic after Prague agreed to host part of the US missile shield.

Certainly, the west should try to engage Russia in talks over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as long as they are based on preserving Georgian sovereignty. It should also redouble efforts to restrain hotheads in Tbilisi from resorting to violence. But when Russia bullies Georgia. the west must back its vulnerable ally.

No comments: