American and European diplomats, who have rushed to the region to try to stop the conflict, would do well to consider the broader effects of this latest round of Caucasus bloodletting – and to seek perspectives on the conflict beyond the story of embattled democracy and cynical comparisons with the Prague Spring of 1968.
Russia illegally attacked Georgia and imperiled a small and feeble neighbor. But by dispatching his own ill-prepared military to resolve a secessionist dispute by force, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has managed to lead his country down the path of a disastrous and ultimately self-defeating war.
Speaking on CNN, Mr. Saakashvili compared Russia’s intervention in Georgia to the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979. Russia has massively overreacted to the situation in Georgia. It has hit targets across Georgia, well beyond South Ossetia, and has killed both Georgian military personnel as well as civilians. The international community is right to condemn this illegal attack on an independent country and United Nations member.
But this is not a repeat of the Soviet Union’s aggressive behavior of the last century. So far at least, Russia’s aims have been clear: to oust Georgian forces from the territory of South Ossetia, one of two secessionist enclaves in Georgia, and to chasten a Saakashvili government that Russia perceives as hot-headed and unpredictable.
Regardless of the conflict’s origins, the West must continue to act diplomatically to push Georgia and Russia back to the pre-attacks status quo. The United States should make it clear that Saakashvili has seriously miscalculated the meaning of his partnership with Washington, and that Georgia and Russia must step back before they do irreparable damage to their relations with the US, NATO, and the European Union.
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