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From Green Light to Yellow

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 13, 2008; 1:03 PM

With Russia reportedly violating its hours-old cease-fire agreement with Georgia, President Bush announced today that he's sending in the American military -- sort of.

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The mission is a humanitarian one, but by choosing to put U.S. planes and ships into a war zone, Bush is raising the stakes in a conflict that his top aides just last night were congratulating themselves for having resolved. (They thought vague threats about World Trade Organization membership had stopped the Russians in their tracks.)

This morning, however, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili took to the American airwaves to accuse Russian forces of moving deeper into his country. And he scolded Bush for his passive response.

"Well, frankly, some of the first statements from Washington were perceived by the Russians almost as a green light for doing this because they were too soft. Russians don't understand that kind of soft language," Saakashvili told CNN. "America is losing the whole region," Saakashvili said, adding that the Russians "are by proxy trying to fight war with the West."

In a hastily scheduled Rose Garden statement a few hours later, Bush repeatedly expressed concerns about Russian actions, then announced he was sending in military planes and ships with humanitarian and medical shipments. He also said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is headed to the Georgian capital.

This time, his comments had some elements of a dare: "We expect Russia to honor its commitment to let in all forms of humanitarian assistance," he said. "We expect Russia to ensure that all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads, and airspace, remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for civilian transit. We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia. And we expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country."

Nothing to Crow About

The agreement that Bush administration officials last night were so proud of basically gave the Russians everything they wanted.

Andrew E. Kramer and Ellen Barry write in the New York Times: "The presidents of Georgia and Russia agreed early Wednesday morning on a framework that could end the war that flared up here five days ago, after Russia reasserted its traditional dominance of the region. . . .

"Whether the agreement holds or not, Russia has achieved its goals, effectively creating a new reality on the ground, humiliating the Georgian military and increasing the pressure on a longtime antagonist, Mr. Saakashvili."

Borzou Daragahi writes in the Los Angeles Times that Saakashvili had been forced to agree to "terms that some described as humiliating to his small, proud nation. . . .

"[A]nalysts said the peace proposal, backed by France and the European Union, left no doubt that Russia won the military conflict of the last several days.

"Russia clearly saw the conflict as an opportunity to reassert dominance over an area that it views as part of its historical sphere of influence. Georgia is a former Soviet republic that gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia has watched with increasing fury as Georgia and other former Soviet states have developed close ties with the United States and Western Europe."


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