Hold to the cease-fire

Our view: International talks should help secure peace

August 13, 2008

The foot soldiers in Georgia's Rose Revolution gathered by the thousands yesterday in the beleaguered capital, waving the red and white flag of their nation. It was a courageous display in the face of Russia's punishing response to Georgia's attack last week on the separatist enclave of South Ossetia. The demonstrators' message was emphatic - an independent Georgia - and ensuring the country's sovereignty should be at the center of any agreement to end the conflict between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili were the prime movers of this war. Mr. Putin ruthlessly employed the might of the Russian military to teach Mr. Saakashvili a harsh lesson for challenging Kremlin-backed separatists and to reassert Russia's claims in the region. It was raw power and ambition on view. Mr. Saakashvili, who sought control over a restive province, remained unbowed yesterday, saying, "We will never give up our freedom, and Georgia will never surrender." He sounded determined, but the Georgian president also should be chastened by the events of the past five days: Russian tanks and troops were 50 miles from his capital until Russian President Dmitry Medvedev halted their advance. And the Georgian army's reckless foray into South Ossetia to punish separatists has left hundreds dead and thousands homeless or refugees.

The Russians would like to see Mr. Saakashvili resign, a change in leadership they cannot dictate. A cease-fire agreement negotiated with the help and leadership of French President Nicolas Sarkozy should be a start for resolving the years-old conflict between Russia and Georgia and protecting Georgia's sovereignty.

But for now, Russia needs to get out of Georgia and leave Mr. Saakashvili to begin rebuilding his war-torn country and strengthening relations with other like-minded former Soviet republics.

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