The president of the beleaguered nation of Georgia declares that the Russian invasion of his country threatens the “future of freedom in Europe.”
In an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, President Mikheil Saakashvili writes: “Ostensibly, this war is about an unresolved separatist conflict. Yet in reality, it is a war about the independence and the future of Georgia. And above all, it is a war over the kind of Europe our children will live in. Let us be frank: This conflict is about the future of freedom in Europe.”
Saakashvili maintains that no country of the former Soviet Union has made more progress in installing democracy and building an independent foreign policy, and “this is precisely what Russia seeks to crush.”
When his government came to power through a peaceful revolution in 2004, it inherited a “dysfunctional state” plagued by separatist conflicts in two parts of the country, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and began working hard to peacefully bring these regions “back into the Georgian fold on terms that would fully protect their rights and interests,” the president writes.
“But Russia, which effectively controls the separatists, responded to our efforts with a policy of outright annexation.”
When friends in Europe counseled Georgian restraint and concentration on diplomacy, Georgia followed their advice and even offered separatist leaders “sweeping autonomy,” Saakashvili’s article states.
“Our offers of peace were rejected. Moscow sought war.”
Under the guise of peacekeeping, Russia sent paratroopers and heavy artillery into Abkhazia in an attempt to bring Georgia to the brink of war. When this failed, the Kremlin turned its attention to South Ossetia, ordering its proxies there to escalate attacks on Georgian positions, Saakashvili said.
“The separatists began attacking civilians and Russian tanks pierced the Georgian border. We had no choice but to protect our civilians and restore our constitutional order. Moscow then used this as pretext for a full-scale military invasion of Georgia.”
He asserts that Georgia is paying the price for voting in favor of membership in NATO. He also asks, "What is at stake in this war?"
He answers that not only is the future of Georgia at stake, but “Russia's future is at stake. Can a Russia that wages aggressive war on its neighbors be a partner for Europe? It is clear that Russia's current leadership is bent on restoring a neocolonial form of control over the entire space once governed by Moscow.
“If Georgia falls, this will also mean the fall of the West in the entire former Soviet Union and beyond. Leaders in neighboring states — whether in Ukraine, in other Caucasian states or in Central Asia — will have to consider whether the price of freedom and independence is indeed too high.”
Also on Monday, Saakashvili told reporters in a conference call that Russia wanted to replace his government and to control energy routes through the Caucasus.
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