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Why Georgia Matters

Written by The Heritage Foundation

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August 13, 2008

The Heritage Foundation

 Details on the current state of Russia's invasion of Georgia are still hard to verify at this point. The last 12 hours have seen news of both a claim by Russia that it has stopped the violence, but also many reports that Russian forces continue to push deep into Georgia - looting, burning and killing innocent Georgians along the way .

What is becoming more and more clear, however, is that this Russian invasion had been planned for some time and that the scope of its objectives extends well beyond the disputed South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.
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There are multiple reports out this morning that the Russian attack on Georgian sovereignty began well before violence erupted in the South Ossetia region between Russia and Georgia. According to the New York Times, security experts in the U.S. were tracking Russian cyberspace attacks against Georgia weeks before the first bombs fell. The attacks fit into a well-established Russian practice of cyber-warfare, which it has also used against former Soviet possessions Lithuania and Estonia.

Heritage senior research fellow Ariel Cohen enumerates Russia's far-reaching goals of the war on Georgia:

  1. Expulsion of Georgian troops and termination of Georgian sovereignty in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
  2. "Regime change" by bringing down President Mikheil Saakashvili and installing a more pro-Russian leadership in Tbilisi.
  3. Preventing Georgia from joining NATO and sending a strong message to Ukraine that its insistence on NATO membership may lead to war and/or its dismemberment.
  4. Shifting control of the Caucasus, and especially over strategic energy pipelines, by controlling Georgia.
  5. Recreating a 19th-century-style sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union, by the use of force if necessary.

Recent events show the Russians are well on their way to accomplishing all of these objectives. Georgian troops have already been expelled from South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the recent cease-fire agreement provides no mechanism from expelling Russian troops and allowing international peacekeepers into the region. Russia continues to refuse to deal with the democratically elected Georgian president, and it has suggested he be removed from office for committing alleged war crimes, the same way the West removed Russian ally Slobodan Milosvic from power. The Russians have also succeeded in shutting down the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, the only pipeline system linking former Soviet republics with the West.

The only thing possibly more disturbing than Russia's bullying is the American's left callow and insouciant reaction to it. Vacationing from Hawaii, Barack Obama issued an extremely weak call for "restraint" and then went body surfing. Obama has since followed John McCain's leadership on the issue , but other liberals continue to to believe that as long as actual tanks aren't invading former Soviet republics, concern about Russia's growing sphere of totalitarian influence is completely unwarranted.

One silver lining out of the conflict has been the solidifying solidarity between the former Soviet republics. Last night the the leaders of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuanua, Latvia and Estonia all joined Saakashvili for a rally before thousands in Tblisi, Georgia. There is much the U.S. and Europe can do to communicate to Moscow that this aggression will not stand. The United States, its allies and other countries need to send a strong signal to Moscow that creating 19th-century-style spheres of influence and redrawing the borders of the former Soviet Union is a danger to world peace.
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Printed with permission from The Heritage Foundation

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