"This small democracy, far away from our shores, is an inspiration to all those who cherish our deepest ideals."
We Are All Georgians
Par John McCain
For anyone who thought that stark international aggression was a thing of the past, the last week must have come as a startling wake-up call. After clashes in the Georgian region of South Ossetia, Russia invaded its neighbor, launching attacks that threaten its very existence. Some Americans may wonder why events in this part of the world are any concern of ours. After all, Georgia is a small, remote and obscure place. But history is often made in remote, obscure places.
As Russian tanks and troops moved through the Roki Tunnel and across the internationally recognized border into Georgia, the Russian government stated that it was acting only to protect Ossetians. Yet regime change in Georgia appears to be the true Russian objective.
Two years ago, I traveled to South Ossetia. As soon as we arrived at its self-proclaimed capital — now occupied by Russian troops — I saw an enormous billboard that read, "Vladimir Putin, Our President." This was on sovereign Georgian territory.
Russian claims of humanitarian motives were further belied by a bombing campaign that encompassed the whole of Georgia, destroying military bases, apartment buildings and other infrastructure, and leaving innocent civilians wounded and killed. As the Russian Black Sea Fleet began concentrating off of the Georgian coast and Russian troops advanced on one city after another, there could be no doubt about the nature of their aggression.
Despite a French-brokered cease-fire — which worryingly does not refer to Georgia's territorial integrity — Russian attacks have continued. There are credible reports of civilian killings and even ethnic cleansing as Russian troops move deeper into Georgian territory.
Moscow's foreign minister revealed at least part of his government's aim when he stated that "Mr. Saakashvili" — the democratically elected president of Georgia — "can no longer be our partner. It would be better if he went." Russia thereby demonstrated why its neighbors so ardently seek NATO membership.
In the wake of this crisis, there are the stirrings of a new trans-Atlantic consensus about the way we should approach Russia and its neighbors. The leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia flew to Tbilisi to demonstrate their support for Georgia, and to condemn Russian aggression. The French president traveled to Moscow in an attempt to end the fighting. The British foreign minister hinted of a G-8 without Russia, and the British opposition leader explicitly called for Russia to be suspended from the grouping.
The world has learned at great cost the price of allowing aggression against free nations to go unchecked. A cease-fire that holds is a vital first step, but only one. With our allies, we now must stand in united purpose to persuade the Russian government to end violence permanently and withdraw its troops from Georgia. International monitors must gain immediate access to war-torn areas in order to avert an even greater humanitarian disaster, and we should ensure that emergency aid lifted by air and sea is delivered.
We should work toward the establishment of an independent, international peacekeeping force in the separatist regions, and stand ready to help our Georgian partners put their country back together. This will entail reviewing anew our relations with both Georgia and Russia. As the NATO secretary general has said, Georgia remains in line for alliance membership, and I hope NATO will move ahead with a membership track for both Georgia and Ukraine.
At the same time, we must make clear to Russia's leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world require their respect for the values, stability and peace of that world. The U.S. has cancelled a planned joint military exercise with Russia, an important step in this direction.
The Georgian people have suffered before, and they suffer today. We must help them through this tragedy, and they should know that the thoughts, prayers and support of the American people are with them. This small democracy, far away from our shores, is an inspiration to all those who cherish our deepest ideals. As I told President Saakashvili on the day the cease-fire was declared, today we are all Georgians. We mustn't forget it.
Mr. McCain is the Republican nominee for president.
Russia’s assertions that it was provoked into war by “genocide” in South Ossetia and that it is observing a cease-fire in Georgia came under new challenge Thursday, as the U.S. stepped up diplomatic pressure on Moscow.
Washington agreed to base missile interceptors on Polish soil, in a new sign of how Russia’s invasion of Georgia is redrawing the geopolitical map.
On the ground in South Ossetia — the contested region where fighting broke out last week between Georgia and Russia — there was little evidence that Georgian attacks killed thousands of civilians, as Russia has said. Doctors said they had treated a few hundred people and one cited a confirmed death toll in the dozens.
Russia and Georgia agreed to a cease-fire Tuesday, and Russia has said it is keeping the peace in places such as Gori, the Georgian city where Russian tanks have taken up positions. That was belied by an incident inside Gori Thursday morning: A man seized the sport-utility vehicle of three United Nations officials at gunpoint, in full view of Russian troops who did nothing.
“Georgian cities remain…subject to hostile and aggressive behavior,” said Georgia’s ambassador to the U.N., Irakli Alasania. “Looting…and murder have become customary.”
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said his nation is a victim of a “disinformation campaign of spectacular proportions.” He said Russian troops “have never occupied Gori.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have repeatedly said that Georgian troops committed genocide against South Ossetians last week when the war broke out. Mr. Medvedev on Tuesday referred to “thousands” of South Ossetians killed in the conflict. Russia has cited this as a main reason for sending troops into the region.
Other Russian and South Ossetian officials have pegged the death toll as high as 2,000. They have maintained that Georgian troops razed the regional capital, Tskhinvali, and left it resembling Stalingrad after the long siege by Nazi troops during World War II. State-controlled television has shown footage of burning buildings and badly damaged infrastructure.
But on the ground in Tskhinvali, where most of the fighting during the five-day conflict occurred, there is little evidence of a high death toll.
In the city’s main hospital, Ada Djueva said she and her colleagues had handled 45 corpses and about 273 injured people. During the fighting, when patients had been evacuated to the cellar, she said 220 surgical operations were conducted.
Dr. Djueva said the figure of 2,000 dead was “possible,” adding that many corpses weren’t brought to the hospital but buried in people’s yards and gardens.
She said the situation had been complicated by the fact that a rocket had struck the city’s morgue, rendering it unusable.
Alexander Ivanyus, the head of a temporary field hospital housed in about a dozen tents next to the hospital, said he and his colleagues had treated about 200 people since the start of hostilities, for gunshot, shrapnel, and land-mine-inflicted wounds. He said his staff had handled three dead bodies.
The Russian army declined to show journalists the city’s cemetery, where it says many of the dead are buried. Lt. Col. Andrei Bobrun said that local people were hostile to Western journalists because of U.S. support for Georgia and a visit to the graveyard could be dangerous.
On Thursday, the only dead bodies on show in Tskhinvali were those of five Georgian soldiers. The troops lay in the middle of a road. They had been stripped down to their underwear, and their corpses were bloated from the hot Caucasian sun.
‘Sea of Bodies’
Nonetheless, Russian Col. Igor Konoshenko said there had earlier been “a sea of bodies” in the city’s streets, including many women, children and elderly people. He said many were buried close to where they fell because of the heat and the continuing conflict, only to be reburied in the cemetery on Thursday. A local fighter, Murat Mestayev, added that his father and a young man he was friendly with had been killed. He said they died when a Georgian tank opened fire on the stairwell of the apartment block they had been sheltering in. He said he had buried them in his garden.
Nazira Guchmazova, a schoolteacher, said three women in her street had been buried in their gardens. Col. Bobrun said it would take a while to ascertain the final number of fatalities. That was because some civilians were still buried beneath rubble, while others had been buried by their loved ones at great speed. The odor of decaying flesh was strong on some streets.
The civil-liberties group Human Rights Watch, which accused both Russian and Georgian troops of causing civilian casualties, issued a report Wednesday suggesting that the number of dead in Tskhinvali was in the dozens, not more.
Order for Justice
Mr. Medvedev this week ordered Russian investigators to gather evidence of the alleged genocide and bring the guilty parties to justice. Russia issued passports to most people in South Ossetia early this decade and has treated the Georgian attacks as crimes against its citizens.
On Thursday, investigators with the Russian prosecutor’s office obtained a list of “more than 60 dead Russian citizens of Ossetian nationality,” the Interfax news agency quoted an official with the prosecutor’s office as saying. The official, Vladimir Markin, said he expected the investigation to last a while. Before the latest conflict, the population of South Ossetia was about 70,000 people.
The U.N. said Thursday that the war has created about 100,000 displaced people. That includes South Ossetians who fled to North Ossetia, which is part of Russia, and people in Georgia proper who fled the advancing Russian troops.
On Thursday, during a meeting with military commanders to thank them for their work, Mr. Medvedev maintained that South Ossetians had “lived through a genocide.”
But even Russian television channels reported Thursday that life in Tskhinvali was getting back to normal, with people back out on the streets and fresh bread rolling off assembly lines at the local bread factory.