An editorial in the Washington Post sounds the clarion call of warning on Russian aggression in Georgia:
A year ago, Russian military maneuvers and provocations of the former Soviet republic of Georgia caused a couple of astute observers to predict that Moscow was laying the groundwork for a military invasion of its democratic and pro-Western neighbor. The warnings were laughed off — until Russian forces poured across Georgia’s borders on the night of Aug. 7, routing the Georgian army and driving thousands of ethnic Georgians from two breakaway provinces. Ten months later, with another summer approaching, Russia is once again mounting provocations on the ground and in diplomatic forums; once again it has scheduled a large military training exercise for July in the region bordering Georgia.
Could Vladimir Putin be contemplating another military operation to finish off the Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili — whom Mr. Putin once vowed to “hang by his balls”? Once again, the scenario is easy to dismiss: The Russian leadership, after all, is engaged in an effort to “reset” relations with the United States; it is seeking support in Europe for discussions on a new “security architecture.” Another fight with Georgia could blow up both efforts.
Still, the facts are these: Russia, in open violation of the cease-fire deal Mr. Putin made with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has never withdrawn its troops to pre-war positions. Instead it has reinforced its units in Georgia and has between 5,000 and 7,500 soldiers in the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow now treats as independent states. There are frequent incidents in the border areas, and Russia recently refused to renew the mandate of an international observer mission that had been deployed in and around South Ossetia.
If hostilities were renewed, Georgia wouldn’t have much chance to defend itself. Its defense minister says that the country has not been able to replace much of the equipment lost in the last war. The Obama administration, which is hoping to complete the outlines of a new strategic arms agreement with Russia by the time of a July summit meeting, hasn’t supplied the Georgian government with the air defenses or anti-tank weapons it would need to resist another Russian assault.
Mr. Saakashvili’s best defense, of course, remains political support from the United States, the European Union and NATO. So far, at least, White House rhetoric in support of Georgian independence has remained firm. The sometimes-impulsive Georgian leader has helped himself with his patient and tolerant management of opposition demonstrations that have disrupted Tbilisi for nearly two months; he needs to be as skillful in sidestepping provocations along the frontier, so as to avoid providing the Kremlin with an excuse for intervention. But a peaceful summer in Georgia will also require firmness from Mr. Obama: He must leave no doubt that another Russian advance in Georgia would be devastating for U.S.-Russian relations.