• 2006-10-18

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

Russia's stance toward Georgia has worsened over the past week, and there is no telling how the standoff will end. On Oct. 17 Russia deported another 148 Georgians 's all in Russia illegally, according to Russian officials 's while Interfax reported that another 100 Russians voluntarily left Georgia. Tragically, one Georgian being deported died of an apparent heart attack while in a Moscow airport. In the meantime, all land, sea, and postal connections between the two countries remain severed, and Russia's mass media is overflowing with anti-Georgian propaganda.

As one deportee was quoted as saying, Russia authorities told him to "go back to your Saakashvili."

World reaction has been cautious and cowardly. Tiny Georgia arrests four alleged spies; giant Russia severs transportation arteries, ostracizes Georgian guests en masse, and generally behaves like impetuous child. And Europe does nothing.
The European Commission described the treatment of Georgians in Russia "as extremely serious." As Benita Ferraro-Waldner, the commission's foreign policy chief, said, "Both countries must town down the rhetoric. The Georgian leadership should also avoid any action that would heighten tension." Once again, Europe has failed to stand up to a menace.

Baltic reaction was little more comforting. On Oct. 17, Lithuania's parliament passed a resolution asking Russia to life the sanctions 's some two weeks after the resolution was ready. According to sources, passage was "tactfully" delayed to accommodate the visit of two Russian lawmakers, who, lo and behold, subsequently thanks their Lithuanian colleagues for the gesture. In the words of Konstantin Kosachev, a Russian MP, "We are greatly appreciative and thankful to our colleagues in the Seimas, and I think [chairman of the foreign affairs committee Justinas] Karosas has played a role in the efforts to save us from an awkward situation passing some statements during our visit to Lithuania. This is a right position that is in keeping with the specific situation."

So we've come full circle. Instead of unequivocally condemning the Kremlin's heavy-handed tactics against a small country struggling to embrace the west, we've become the appeasers. Fifteen years ago, we Balts were prepared to endure numerous discomforts 's living in the cold and dark - for the sake of independence and freedom, yet now we kowtow to Russia for fear that the eastern neighbor will cut off energy supplies. Instead of solidarity, we show the Georgians our hypocrisy 's at worst, our cowardice.

To be sure, there have been voices of protest. Two parliamentary committees in Latvia adopted an appeal to Russia asking the latter to lift sanctions, though they stopped short of a condemnation, or bringing it to a wider vote. And the Riigikogu (Estonia's parliament) adopted a statement supporting Georgia and asking Russia to end the sanctions. Both Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and Foreign Minister Urmas Paet have stated this week that the EU heads of government should raise the issue with Russia in Finland on Oct. 20. Indeed, this will the true test of their courage in the face of the increasingly brazen Russian regime. Someone needs to stand up to it, and perhaps the time has come for Baltic leaders to show Europe how it's done.