Larissa Wagen in Tbilisi -
Recent events in Georgia should evoke more than mere pity to civilized Westerners. While the situation may seem a far off battle, the results of the West's reactions will have long-lasting implications.
Russian "peacekeepers" have been in the "breakaway" (yet still sovereign Georgian) regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since early 1992, the result of a ceasefire agreement between Georgia and South Ossetia. While Georgia has repeatedly requested that an international team of peacekeepers be allocated to the breakaway regions to balance the overwhelming Russian military presence in its midst, its requests have been ignored.
Meanwhile Russia has been slowly but steadily increasing its military power in the Georgian territories under the guise of "peacekeeping." Simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians living in the territories have been systematically expelled by the growing Russian presence. Thus, while Moscow asserts that the majority of citizens living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are Russian nationals, it is only because ethnic Georgians who have called these territories home for centuries have been brutally expelled from their homes and forced to flee into central Georgia.
While Georgia and Ukraine strived to inch towards Nato membership last spring, Western Europe trembled under the threats of Moscow possibly turning off the gas, which would be disastrous for Europeans trying to keep their homes warm in winter, and which would give the old adage about "revenge" being best served "cold" real meaning. All the while, the shadow that Russia casts grows increasingly longer and darker. And history repeats itself. By doing nothing for Georgia besides vocally protesting, we are in effect giving our acknowledgement to Moscow that it holds the reins of power over all of us, that we can all be bullied into Moscow's desired behaviour.
Although the recognized end of the Cold War was more than 15 years ago, Russia continues to operate under the same cold war guidelines. The West would be wise to reconsider the consequences of playing patsy to Russian threats. Over the past 15 years, western governments have wasted far too much effort befriending a forever-feral Russia. Russia, on the other hand, has been less than friendly, cosying ruthlessly up to whoever best suits its interests at any given time. There is much to lose where bullies are involved. Since everyone knows bullies have secretly weak cores, if the world stands together forcefully, the bully will be contained.
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