Russia's War Is The West's Challenge

Russian soldiers patrol in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, yesterday.
Russian soldiers patrol in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, yesterday. (By Dmitry Lovetsky -- Associated Press)
By Mikheil Saakashvili
Thursday, August 14, 2008

TBILISI, Georgia -- Russia's invasion of Georgia strikes at the heart of Western values and our 21st-century system of security. If the international community allows Russia to crush our democratic, independent state, it will be giving carte blanche to authoritarian governments everywhere. Russia intends to destroy not just a country but an idea.

For too long, we all underestimated the ruthlessness of the regime in Moscow. Yesterday brought further evidence of its duplicity: Within 24 hours of Russia agreeing to a cease-fire, its forces were rampaging through Gori; blocking the port of Poti; sinking Georgian vessels; and -- worst of all -- brutally purging Georgian villages in South Ossetia, raping women and executing men.

The Russian leadership cannot be trusted -- and this hard reality should guide the West's response. Only Western peacekeepers can end the war.

Russia also seeks to destroy our economy and is bombing factories, ports and other vital sites. Accordingly, we need to establish a modern version of the Berlin Airlift; the United Nations, the United States, Canada and others are moving in this direction, for which we are deeply grateful.

As we consider what to do next, understanding Russia's goals is critical. Moscow aims to satisfy its imperialist ambitions; to erase one of the few democratic, law-governed states in its vicinity; and, above all, to demolish the post-Cold War system of international relations in Europe. Russia is showing that it can do as it pleases.

The historical parallels are stark: Russia's war on Georgia echoes events in Finland in 1939, Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Perhaps this is why so many Eastern European countries, which suffered under Soviet occupation, have voiced their support for us.

Russia's authoritarian leaders see us as a threat because Georgia is a free country whose people have elected to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community. This offends Russia's rulers. They do not want their nation or even its borders contaminated by democratic ideas.

Since our democratic government came to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution, Russia has used economic embargoes and closed borders to isolate us and has illegally deported thousands of Georgians in Russia. It has tried to destabilize us politically with the help of criminal oligarchs. It has tried to freeze us into submission by blowing up vital gas pipelines in midwinter.

When all that failed to shake the Georgian people's resolve, Russia invaded.

Last week, Russia, using its separatist proxies, attacked several peaceful, Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia, killing innocent civilians and damaging infrastructure.

On Aug. 6, just hours after a senior Georgian official traveled to South Ossetia to attempt negotiations, a massive assault was launched on Georgian settlements. Even as we came under attack, I declared a unilateral cease-fire in hopes of avoiding escalation and announced our willingness to talk to the separatists in any format.

But the separatists and their Russian masters were deaf to our calls for peace. Our government then learned that columns of Russian tanks and troops had crossed Georgia's sovereign borders. The thousands of troops, tanks and artillery amassed on our border are evidence of how long Russia had been planning this aggression.

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