Russia's brutal might

Our view: Western diplomats must intervene in conflict in Georgia

August 12, 2008

Russian tanks and soldiers don't have to reach the capital of Georgia to break the government of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Their two-pronged assault on the former Soviet republic and relentless drive to evict Georgian troops from the separatist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have proved Mr. Saakashvili's vulnerability at home and abroad. Mr. Saakashvili badly underestimated Russia's reaction to his government's moves against the neighboring separatists and the West's ability to protect him from an invasion.

But Russia can't be the one to depose the democratically elected Mr. Saakashvili. President Bush, an outspoken supporter of Mr. Saakashvili's, has little sway with his friend, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin. That was evident after the two men spoke during the opening ceremony of the Olympics following last week's attacks and counterattacks - Russia escalated its response. It's up to the Europeans and the United Nations to try and broker a halt to the Russian advance.

The conflict between Russia and Georgia has been long in coming, and both are to blame for the outbreak of violence. Georgia's independence, push for NATO membership and strategic location for the movement of oil and natural gas are among the points of contention with Russia. But Russia's fierce response to Georgian troops entering South Ossetia to quell separatist attacks is disturbing for what it says about its intentions - to assert Russian dominance in that part of the world and beyond. It's unlikely that Mr. Bush's strong condemnation of Russia yesterday will move the Kremlin to pull back; he is an unpopular, lame-duck president. The United States' European allies must lead the way in resolving the Russian-Georgian conflict. They need to press Mr. Putin to accept a cease-fire; he has made his point. Occupying Georgia is not an acceptable end to the conflict.

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