Saturday, August 16, 2008

Standing up to Russian aggression

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Over the past week, Russian forces have invaded, occupied and, in effect, annexed one-fifth of neighbouring Georgia, but is that of any real concern to the Western democracies? Why should we care about the fate of a tiny country with a population of 4.4 million bordering on the Black Sea?

And eerily similar situation arose in September 1938, when the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler threatened to invade and annex the Sudetenland, a predominantly German-speaking region of neighbouring Czechoslovakia. Conservative British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain played down the crisis. Intead of rallying to the defence of democratic Czechoslovakia, he said: "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is, that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing."

Two days later, Chamberlain flew off to Munich; signed an agreement with Hitler to surrender the Sudetenland to Germany; and then returned in triumph to Britain, predicting "peace for our time."

Sir Winston Churchill knew better. To the dismay of most of his Conservative colleagues, he denounced the Munich agreement in the House of Commons as "a total and unmitigated defeat" for Britain and France.

Labour Party leader Clement Attlee, was no less outraged. He said: "We have seen today a gallant, civilised and democratic people betrayed and handed over to a ruthless despotism. We have seen something more. We have seen the cause of democracy, which is, in our view, the cause of civilisation and humanity, receive a terrible defeat."

This week, another brutal dictator, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has personally directed the invasion and occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two secessionist regions of Georgia. But this time, instead of cravenly betraying Georgia, the Labour Prime Minister of Britain, George Brown, and the conservative President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy are both stoutly insisting that Russia must implement an immediate ceasefire and respect the territorial integrity of democratic Georgia.

David Cameron, head of the British Conservative Party, is also backing Georgia. He maintains: "This is not some quarrel in a far-away land. What happens in Georgia directly affects us. For a start, it's about energy security. One million barrels of oil a day are delivered by the Baku-"Ceyhan oil pipeline. This runs right through Georgia, close to the areas affected by the conflict."

In Europe, as in North America, many leftists insist that the Georgian conflict starts and ends with oil. But that's nonsense. It is also about global security.

In underlining this point, Cameron explained: "History has shown that if you leave aggression to go unchecked, greater crises will only emerge in the future. Today, Russia says it is defending its citizens in South Ossetia. Where tomorrow? In Ukraine? In Central Asia? In Latvia?"

The leaders of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Ukraine are alive to the danger. On Tuesday, they flew into Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to express their solidarity with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia.

At a huge public rally in Tbilisi, President Lech Kaczynski of Poland exclaimed to the Georgian people: "Our neighbor thinks it can fight us. We are telling it no." President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine likewise admonished the crowd that "freedom is worth fighting for."

On Wednesday, Yushchenko' government followed up, by serving notice that ships attached to the Russian Black Sea fleet, which is based in the Ukrainian Port of Sevastopol and has been taking part in the Georgian conflict, will no longer be allowed to enter or leave Ukrainian waters without the permission of Ukrainian authorities.

Meanwhile, United States President George Bush has not only demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia, but also ordered the United States navy and air force to land humanitarian supplies in Georgia and make sure they are distributed throughout the country.

Today, unlike 70 years ago, the leaders of most of the Western democracies seem resolved not to be weighed in the balance and found wanting in their determination to resist the aggression of a dictatorial European thug.

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