The fat is, at long last, in the fire. Russia and Georgia are doing the Big Dance.
TBILISI, Georgia -- Russian television reports that Russian troops are moving into South Ossetia. The development comes hours after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Georgia that its attack on South Ossetia will draw retaliation. Channel 1 television showed a convoy of Russian tanks that it said entered South Ossetia. The convoy was expected to reach the provincial capital, Tskhinvali, in a few hours.
Russia called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to the crisis, but members failed to agree on a Russian statement calling on both sides to renounce the use of force.
The U.S. should immediately convene an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to call on Russia to reverse course.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile said Moscow had received reports that villages in South Ossetia were being ethnically cleansed, according to Reuters.com.
"We are receiving reports that a police of ethnic cleansing was being conducted in villages in South Ossetia, the number of refugees is climbing, the panic is growing, people are trying to save their lives," he was reported saying.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax, said Russians had died because of Georgia's operations. Russia "will not allow the deaths of our compatriots to go unpunished" and "those guilty will receive due punishment," he said. "My duty as Russian president is to safeguard the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, wherever they are. This is what is behind the logic of the steps we are undertaking now."
I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict. Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full scale war. Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected. All sides should enter into direct talks on behalf of stability in Georgia, and the United States, the United Nations Security Council, and the international community should fully support a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
UPDATE 8: Hits from Bloomberg:
The timing suggests Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili may have been counting on surprise to fulfill his longtime pledge to wrest back control of South Ossetia – a key to his hold on power. Saakashvili agreed the timing was not coincidental, but accused Russia of being the aggressor. "Most decision makers have gone for the holidays," he said in an interview with CNN. "Brilliant moment to attack a small country."
Vasil Sikharulidze, Georgia's ambassador to Washington, said in an interview, "We are asking our friends, and the United States among them, to somehow to try to mediate and try to persuade Russia to stop this military aggression and invasion of Georgia." "What we heard is that the State Department and the entire administration is deeply concerned and that they are heavily engaged with Russia trying to de-escalate the situation," he said.
I just want to emphasize that a lot of people with knowledge of Georgia have been raising alarms about the risks involved with a close US-Georgian relationship, particularly to the degree that Saakashvili believes it gives him more "strategic cover" than he actually has.
Saakashvili has sunk an enormous amount of his political capital into resolving--in Georgia's favor--the frozen conflicts. This never made sense, as Saakashvili has a decent record to point to when it comes making the Georgian state more functional and less patrimonial. But, for whatever reason, he decided to stake his reputation on goals that the Russians will not accept.
I can't say for certain, but I do get the sense that the Bush Administration missed major warning signs. To paraphrase something a very smart friend of mine once told me: the problem is that Georgia is one of the few "success stories" the Bush Administration can point to for its democratization agenda.
[NATO] has taken a detached and neutral position. It is receiving and analyzing information. Our NATO partners have had enough time to take a close look at Saakashvili and to understand his game.
Indeed. Still no sign -- no sign at all -- that anyone in Europe or America wants to bail out the Saak. Even McCain, who seems to be alone in demanding everything of Russia and almost nothing of Georgia, has shown no interest in sending in the cavalry, airlifting Georgia's Iraq contingent back home, or lifting a little finger to get Saak out of trouble.
If the whole world does not stop Russia today, then Russian tanks will be able to reach any other European capital.