Applebaum on Georgia

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Anne Applebaum has an interesting column on the situation in Georgia: A Threat Explodes In Georgia.

Both sides have deeper motives for fighting. The Russians want to prevent Georgia from joining NATO, as Georgia, a Western-oriented democracy — George Bush has called the country a “ beacon of liberty” — has long wanted to do. In this, they will almost certainly succeed: No Western power has any interest in a military ally that is involved in a major military conflict with Russia.

The Georgian leadership, by contrast, had come to believe that the constant pressure of Russian aggression, coupled with the West’s failure to accept Georgia into NATO, compelled them to demonstrate “self-reliance.” President Mikheil Saakashvili has indeed been buying weapons in preparation for this moment. Those who know him say he believed a military conflict was inevitable but could be won if conducted cleverly. As of last night, with Russian soldiers fighting in South Ossetia — only a few dozen miles from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital — it seemed as though he might have miscalculated, badly. Russia has not sent 150 tanks across that border in order to lose.

Still, the bottom line is this: Georgia should have stepped back from the brink — and should still do so if it has a chance — but Russia’s deployment of such a large and carefully prepared force, not only in South Ossetia but in the rest of Georgia as well, is totally unacceptable. The other indisputable conclusion? Wherever the blame for this week’s escalation is finally laid, the West has very little influence on the outcome. Saakashvili’s appeals for help and moral support — “ This is not about Georgia,” he told CNN, “this is about the basic values the U.S. has always preached” — aren’t going to amount to much unless Russia wants them to.

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