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There are currently 192 member states of the United Nations. The average person could probably name 20 or so, a news junkie might get 50, but only a person who has committed a list to memory could name all of them. And until last week, one of the least likely countries to come to mind would be the former Soviet state, the Republic of Georgia.

That is, until Russia invaded Georgia last week under the pretense of protecting South Ossetians from Georgian persecution.

The Kremlin initially claimed its interests were limited to protecting the South Ossetians and those of the neighboring Georgian province of Abkhazia. Then, as it moved into Georgia and began attacking Georgian targets, the Kremlin claimed it was in response to Georgian “aggression.”

Georgia’s armed forces (the “aggressors”) number 29,000 troops. (For comparison purposes, the NYPD has 39,000 uniformed officers.)

Georgia has (had) 82 T-72 tanks and seven operational combat aircraft.

Russia (the “defenders”) was fortunately able to repel the “aggressors” using some of Russia’s 641,000 troops, 6,717 battle tanks and 1,206 combat aircraft.

Lost in all the diplomatic doublespeak is the salient fact that the “aggressors” never made it out of Georgia, whereas the “defenders” are at the time of this writing encamped just outside the Georgian capital of Tblisi.

What got Moscow’s knickers in a knot in the first place was a commitment issued last April by NATO to both Georgia and the Ukraine, promising them eventual membership in defiance of Russian objections.

The invasion of Georgia took place most probably because Georgia gave the Kremlin the first excuse to do so. If not, it may have been the Ukraine. The Kremlin had a point to make – and it made it.

Under the NATO Charter, the invasion of Georgia would be a declaration of war against NATO – and all NATO member states. So Russia is playing a dangerous game of chicken, provoking what would mean war with NATO over Georgia.

Russia wanted to make sure nobody missed the point, so it sent its forces into the Georgian port city of Poti, where Russian engineers mined and blew up the port’s oil-exporting facilities.

The Kremlin had previously bombed a major oil pipeline supplying oil to the European Union. That point was clearly taken, as well.

The EU’s Javier Solana’s blistering rhetoric on Monday had considerably softened by mid-week, even as the Russians continued to move toward Tblisi in defiance of a declared cease-fire.

NATO announced that while it was very sorry about the Russian invasion, Georgia wasn’t a full member, and besides, NATO had commitments elsewhere. Further comments were referred to the U.N., which offered no comment.

Although President Bush offered tough talk and a few planeloads of relief supplies, his comments made it just as clear Georgia is pretty much on her own.

None of this was lost on other former Soviet clients. Take Poland, who recently agreed to the deployment of U.S. missile batteries on its soil in defiance of the Kremlin.

Polish President Donald Tusk was moved to comment yesterday: “Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later – it is no good when assistance comes to dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of – knock on wood – any possible conflict.”

By 1938, the Allies were well acquainted with the aspirations of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, but they hoped they were wrong, anyway. Instead of stopping him then, they looked the other way, hoping to avoid war. They didn’t avoid it. When war finally came, it began with the invasion of Poland.

President Tusk’s comment about “assistance to dead people” was not meant rhetorically.

Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his own goal for Mother Russia – which is to restore the Soviet Empire under new management.

And Russia is betting the farm that NATO and the West are ready to follow that historical parallel all the way to its logical conclusion.


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