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McCain Delivers Remarks on Russia/Georgia Conflict

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Monday, August 11, 2008; 1:48 PM

MCCAIN: Americans wishing to spend August vacationing with their families or watching the Olympics may wonder why their newspapers and television screens are filled with images of war in the small country of Georgia. Concerns about what occurs there might seem distant and unrelated to the many other interests America has around the world. And yet Russian aggression against Georgia is both a matter of urgent moral and strategic importance to the United States of America.

Georgia is an ancient country, at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and one of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion. After a brief period of independence following the Russian revolution, the Red Army forced Georgia to join the Soviet Union in 1922. As the Soviet Union crumbled at the end of the Cold War, Georgia regained its independence in 1991, but its early years were marked by instability, corruption, and economic crises.

Following fraudulent parliamentary elections in 2003, a peaceful, democratic revolution took place, led by the U.S.-educated lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili. The Rose Revolution changed things dramatically and, following his election, President Saakashvili embarked on a series of wide-ranging and successful reforms. I've met with President Saakashvili many times, including during several trips to Georgia.

What the people of Georgia have accomplished in terms of democratic governance, a Western orientation, and domestic reform is nothing short of remarkable. That makes Russia's recent actions against the Georgians all the more alarming. In the face of Russian aggression, the very existence of independent Georgia and the survival of its democratically-elected government are at stake.

"In recent days Moscow has sent its tanks and troops across the internationally recognized border into the Georgian region of South Ossetia. Statements by Moscow that it was merely aiding the Ossetians are belied by reports of Russian troops in the region of Abkhazia, repeated Russian bombing raids across Georgia, and reports of a de facto Russian naval blockade of the Georgian coast. Whatever tensions and hostilities might have existed between Georgians and Ossetians, they in no way justify Moscow's path of violent aggression. Russian actions, in clear violation of international law, have no place in 21st century Europe.

The implications of Russian actions go beyond their threat to the territorial integrity and independence of a democratic Georgia. Russia is using violence against Georgia, in part, to intimidate other neighbors such as Ukraine for choosing to associate with the West and adhering to Western political and economic values. As such, the fate of Georgia should be of grave concern to Americans and all people who welcomed the end of a divided of Europe, and the independence of former Soviet republics. The international response to this crisis will determine how Russia manages its relationships with other neighbors. We have other important strategic interests at stake in Georgia, especially the continued flow of oil through the Baku-Tblisi- Ceyhan pipeline, which Russia attempted to bomb in recent days; the operation of a critical communication and trade route from Georgia through Azerbaijan and Central Asia; and the integrity an d influence of NATO, whose members reaffirmed last April the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Georgia.


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