Latvians are queasier about national security than in many years. Recently I took an intriguing photo of a large political advertisement sign just a few meters from our Rīga office. It portrays the American and Russian leaders side-by-side with George Bush pointing to some place vague and Vladimir Putin following along. The caption reads, “How much for Georgia?”
This question reveals cynical attitudes that many have, not only toward Putin, but Presiden Bush as well. It grieves me that so many Latvians have decreasing confidence in the integrity of the United States in international affairs.
Perhaps a little background would be helpful. In 2006, after years of ethnic turmoil and political unrest, two regions of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, declared their intent to form new independent states. But below the surface, it has been clear that their leaders were puppets of Moscow, used to weaken Georgia and strengthen Russia.
On Aug. 6, in an effort to hinder the independence movement, Georgia foolishly lashed out at South Ossetia (slightly smaller than Switzerland). When Georgia attacked, Russia responded with overwhelming force. Almost 1,700 South Ossetian and Georgian civilians lost their lives and more than 158,000 were displaced.
On Aug. 7, Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis rushed to Tbilisi to show solidarity with the Georgian president and people. The presidents of Estonia, Lithuania and Poland joined him.
In Rīga, spontaneous anti-Russian protests occurred in front the Russian embassy. At the same time, numerous crowds gathered at the Georgian embassy (two blocks from the Russian embassy), burning candles and singing freedom songs.
When I joined the crowd on Aug. 14, I was reminded of gatherings in which I participated in the late 1980s and early ‘90s in Latvia when she was struggling for freedom.
In a bold move, on Aug. 18, the Georgian parliament voted to withdraw from the Confederation of Independent States. The CIS had been comprised of 12 of the 15 former Soviet states. The Baltic States, having achieved independence in 1991, never joined the CIS.
On Aug. 26, Russia officially recognized the independence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Two days later, the Georgian parliament passed a resolution declaring both territories as Russian-occupied.
Why are the Baltics so upset with what is happening in Georgia and South Ossetia? Simply put, they understand what a threat Moscow represents when its aggression is left unchecked. Russia has managed to harvest more and more of her vast natural resources. Her national treasury is lined with untold billions—and so are the pockets of countless political brokers. This makes Russia all the more dangerous.
Most in the West do not realize that Russia flexed her mighty muscles last year in Estonia. When Estonians removed an old Soviet monument from Tallinn’s Old City, Russian-driven riots broke out. The Estonian embassy in Moscow was attacked. Then a tremendously powerful computer viral attack was launched at the Estonian financial systems. Though not fully proven, many have attributed this attack to Russia. What did the NATO defense alliance do to protect their tiny member nation? Not so much—and Latvians took note.
Russia’s aggression toward Georgia was more significant than her hostility toward Estonia. She violated internationally agreed upon borders with the intent to annex more land and people.
Western protests were loud, NATO meetings were convened, and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France demonstrated some noteworthy diplomatic leadership. But so far, Russia has effectively taken away part of Georgia and no one has stopped her.
All signs indicate that Russia intends to retake area after area until her former empires are re-established and even surpassed. Western voices are joining together to prevent Russia from taking Moldova and the Ukraine next.
But are voices enough?
A sign in Rīga questions not only Russia’s designs on Georgia, but also America’s relationship with Russia. (Photo by Charles D. Kelley)
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