Georgia and Latvia, and Russia and America, too

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?

Sign of Bush and Putin

A sign in Rīga questions not only Russia’s designs on Georgia, but also America’s relationship with Russia. (Photo by Charles D. Kelley)

Charles D. Kelley is a Latvian-American with dual citizenship. He is the president of Bridge Builders International.

3 thoughts on “Georgia and Latvia, and Russia and America, too

  1. No, voices are not enough. Not unless there are millions throughout the world raised in unison with common purpose. Determined singing voices occasionally achieve results as well. However, actions are known to always speak louder than words and are a vital element in developing trust and a belief that further action will be taken in whatever the present situation demands. It need not be a military attack but certainly action of a kind that will leave no doubt in the mind of the aggressor that further operations will be initiated. With Russia feeling its oats right now and chomping at the bit to get moving, there is a definite degree of hostility and fear not knowing how they will next attempt to try and shock the world out of its complacency vis a vis former occupied countries. The fact that billions of aid dollars ended up in the pockets of oligarchs is galling. Eastern European countries and especially the Baltics have reason to be somewhat cynical about the West’s relative inaction in spite of the fact that America was the first and only country to send a naval ship with aid for Georgia. America will also bear the cost of rebuilding Georgia’s infrastructure as it has done in many other countries. Has Russia ever taken responsibility and restored anything it has ravaged. No, and it never will. Recently, only the G7 met in Washington, not the G8. That action should be applauded. Russia is not an island unto itself and will suffer the effects of isolation by the West. The cynicism mentioned above is simply based on past history and it does appear to repeat itself, many times over. Yalta in 1945 was the trigger point that enslaved millions for over fifty years and that, my friends, is very hard to forget or erase from one’s mind. Since much of what really goes on in the world is done diplomatically, behind the scenes, the best that one can hope for is that those pulling the strings are honorable, trustworthy and knowledgable. It therefore is imperative that Senator John McCain becomes President of America. He spent five long, agonizing years incarcerated in a Communist prison cell with all of his civil, human rights and basic freedoms denied him. What other American President has ever endured that and can speak for all of us who love freedom and democracy. His voice will be heard, loud and very clear.

  2. A statement made in my initial letter on this topic requires a slight revision. Just recently, the European Union, America and several other international entities have pledged 4.5 billion dollars for the rebuilding of structural damage in certain areas caused by Russia’s recent intrusion, invasion and devastation in Georgia. Once again, Russia takes no responsibility for its devisive actions and the ultimate damage it causes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *