The Invasion Continues

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

IN MOSCOW yesterday, President Dmitry Medvedev gave every indication that Russia was winding up its military operation in Georgia. Meanwhile, his forces continued to advance into that sovereign nation and bomb widely dispersed strategic targets there. The contradiction was consistent with the Russian regime's behavior throughout this crisis: Its words have borne no connection to its actions; its actions are untethered to international norms.

We're pleased to publish on the opposite page today an analysis by former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. He sees the origins of this crisis very differently from how we do, but he agrees that "hostilities must cease as soon as possible." What he doesn't spell out is that such an outcome rests entirely in the hands of Mr. Medvedev -- or of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, depending on who is really in charge. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has accepted a French proffer of an immediate cease-fire. Russia, by contrast, seems determined to depose Georgia's government because it has not been willing to act as vassal and submit to Russia's resurgent imperial ambitions. "Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people," President Bush said yesterday. "Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century."

Well said, but what to do about it? Of course we support the intensified diplomacy that is taking place, including France's efforts to negotiate a truce. Nations on every continent should make clear that invasion and conquest are not acceptable modes of behavior and that Russia will face long-term and damaging consequences if it persists in occupying parts of Georgia and even more damaging consequences if it extends its military campaign. NATO's plans for the joint defense of members such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland need to be urgently upgraded; the decision to hold the Winter Olympics in a Russian city near the Georgian border should be reexamined; Europe's insouciance about its dependence on Russian oil and gas should be a thing of the past.

But the most urgent need is to see clearly what is taking place. As the crisis deepened, one could hear in Washington the usual attempts to blame the victim, as if Georgia somehow deserved this fate because its elected government had opted for friendly relations with the West. There were also the predictable efforts to score domestic political points.

Fortunately, both candidates for president rose above such temptations, issuing statements that showed they understand the moral calculus and the stakes -- and that the U.S. election will not yield a president any more tolerant of the Kremlin's bullying. Yesterday morning, Sen. John McCain (R) condemned the attacks, outlined a series of policy responses and said, "We must remind Russia's leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world require their respect for the values, stability and peace of that world." Later in the day, Sen. Barack Obama (D) said, "There is no possible justification for these attacks" and added: "I have consistently called for deepening relations between Georgia and transatlantic institutions, including a Membership Action Plan for NATO, and we must continue to press for that deeper relationship."

That's the right call; but a precondition of a deepening relationship is the survival of an independent Georgia. As we write, Russia has put that survival shockingly in doubt.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company