Russia's attack on Georgia was a disproportionate response to a regional conflict over two breakaway republics. It wasn't surprising, though. Vladimir Putin has been determined to stop, if not reverse, the pro-Western trend on his borders.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this military assault is that the United States and its allies have limited options in dealing with Russia. Russia is not the demoralized country it was at the end of the Cold War. Its gross domestic product has increased from $200 billion in 1999 to $1.2 trillion in 2007, according to The Washington Post. It has spent billions in oil revenues to modernize its military, and it still has thousands of nuclear warheads. Its attack on Georgia clearly demonstrates that it is comfortable in the role of neighborhood bully, seemingly unmoved by talks among other world leaders of excluding Russia from the G-8 and canceling planned NATO war exercises.
Yet, the allies need Russia to contain nuclear proliferation worldwide, although Thursday, a Russian deputy prime minister said Russia may change its mind on the U.S.-led efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon because of America's support for Georgia.
President Bush rebuked Russia's attack on Georgia in a stern televised address from the White House on Wednesday. Bush has dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi to assess the situation and to insist that both parties abide by the truce brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Meanwhile, U.S. humanitarian supplies are en route to Georgia.
On Tuesday, the leaders of three post-Soviet Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and Poland appeared at a rally in Tbilisi with Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili to show a united front against Russia.
While economic sanctions and freezing Russia out of international organizations may have some impact, it is important the allies stand united against Russia's aggression. It is equally important that there be a factual accounting how these events came to a head. While Saakashvili has an obligation to protect his country, placing Georgian troops in the pro-Russian breakaway province of South Ossetia appears to have provoked these events. Most South Ossetians have Russian citizenship. Russian officials have said it launched a major military offensive to regain control of the province.
A military response by Georgia's allies is out of the question. But this is an important time for the United States and others to demonstrate unwavering support for the pro-Western nation, which was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. More so, this is a critical time for the international press corps to provide unfettered reporting of these events. Russia's conduct must be held up to worldwide scrutiny. It may be the most effective diplomatic tool of all.