Russia Turns the Screws After Georgian Provocation

Russia Turns the Screws After Georgian Provocation

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement Oct. 1 declaring that the Georgian government's arrest of seven Russian officers was needlessly provocative, and suggesting a U.S. hand in the incident. "There seem to be some powers which specialize in creating a new crisis every day, thinking it will distract attention from the old problems," Putin said. "In the short term it might have some effect, but it absolutely will not help in resolving old and very serious crises around the world." Putin compared the Georgian government's actions to the paranoia of the U.S.S.R. under Stalin and his secret police chief Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria (both Georgians by birth). Now Putin has asked the Russian Parliament to levy economic and travel sanctions against Georgia that would amount to a blockade.

Putin's veiled suggestion that Washington had a hand in Georgia's actions prompted a diplomatic phone call from President George W. Bush to Putin. A few hours after this presidential talk, international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe came to a Georgian prison in Tbilisi to monitor the release of the seven jailed Russian officers. The freed Russians were driven first to the Russian embassy, and then on to the airport for a flight to Moscow.

Moscow views Georgia as a U.S. client state, but it is still unclear if Washington authorized the arrests of the officers, or if Saakashvili overplayed his hand in a clumsy attempt to force the withdrawal of Russian military outposts. The Georgian government is known for making sensational allegations -- last year they accused Russian agents of planting a grenade to assassinate George W. Bush when the American president visited Georgia. Now it looks like the sanctions machine started by Russia cannot be stopped, and the biggest loser in this confrontation is Georgia. It is time to ask: What has Georgia gained from this latest conflict?

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