'Hey Russia hands off Georgia'

  • 2008-08-13
  • By TBT Staff

RIGA - Leaders from all three Baltics threw their personal lot in with the Georgia  when they flew to the embattled nation days after releasing a joint statement demanding a halt to all Russian aggression.
Estonian President Ilves, Lithuanian President Adamkus and Latvian Prime Minister Godmanis arrived in Georgia on Aug. 12 to familiarize themselves with the current situation and discuss a peace plan. 
Estonian President Ilves called for action in the European community.

"War has broken out in Europe, a European nation has fallen victim to the aggression of its neighbor, and the European Union, as the bearer of European values, cannot remain a helpless bystander," he said.
Prime Minister Godmanis was critical of the Russian side of the conflict. "If they wish for a change of the government, they need Georgian support, which I do not believe in. If they wish to stay there for long, I do not understand who they will be able to talk to worldwide."
The international community is looking to the Baltic region to gauge its reaction, drawing parallels between the events in Georgia and the events of 18 years ago in the Baltics. Latvian Prime Minister Godmanis also sees the connection.

"The situation in Latvia was similar 18 years ago. I was the government head at that time, and I remember the situation in August and January. To a certain extent, it is our duty to support Georgia this time," he said.
In a conversation with Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Petras Vaitiekunas, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted that when referring to the situation in Georgia, it was necessary to stress very clearly the shameful parallels between the former Soviet and current Russian aggression.  
The international community is also commending the quick and organized way the Baltics sprang into action.
Lithuanian political analyst Haroldas Brozaitis agreed, saying, "It is reassuring that we engaged faster than others. We sent envoys there days before European or Western envoys."

Baltic 'mistake'
But the Baltics' supportive reactions are not without criticism from the Russian community.
The Russian ambassador to Latvia, Alexander Veshnyakov, expressed his view that the joint resolution in support of Georgia is a mistake. "One must not hurry on such serious issues, as serious mistakes can be made that have to be paid for a long time afterwards," he said.
After Latvia received a call for military aid from Georgia, Veshnyakov responded: "If Latvia agrees, [consequences] will be very bad."

Russia isn't the only party critical of Baltic support. Estonian Center Party leader and Mayor of Tallinn Edgar Savisaar had this to say on the matter: "As long as Estonia is the advocate of just one side and as long as Estonian politicians just keep going back and forth to Tbilisi, we won't be able to contribute to the ending of violence in any way."
Fears in the former Soviet republics are apparent. At noon on Aug. 12, a NATO plane flew over Riga in a regularly scheduled flight, and police telephone lines were tied up for nearly an hour with calls from concerned citizens.

In Lithuania, the tension is even more prevalent. Rasa Jukneviciene, who heads the parliamentary delegation at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, called for immediate NATO action regarding a plan for Georgia and Ukraine to be admitted to NATO.
"Today there should be no speaking with undertones 's Lithuania and other countries in the region are in a zone of grave threat. Lithuania is a member of NATO, therefore, the NATO list of threats should feature more than the threat of terrorism but also other identified threats and Russia is an evident threat to NATO.
This should lead to relevant defense plans for the region, including establishment of certain NATO bases in the Baltic states," said Jukneviciene. 

Popular support
While leaders released statements, the people of the Baltic nations have taken to the streets to show their support of the Georgian people.
A parade of over 1,000 supporters marched from the Freedom Monument to the Russian and Georgian embassies in support of Georgia and against Russian aggression. Protesters blocked traffic for hours, carrying white roses and signs reading "Putin! I cry because of you," and "Hands off of Georgia 's Russians go home."
The double meaning of many chants was not lost on participants. The cries of "Russians out!" were met with a light reprimand from the Latvian Transatlantic Organization (LATO) protest organizers. "We are in support of Georgia, not against the Russian people," LATO organizers said.

Also in attendance were several Russia supporters, wrapped in Russian flags and heckling participants.
The march ended at the Georgian embassy, where supporters placed white roses in sympathy on the embassy ledges. Georgian embassy workers and the ambassador were pleased at the display and tearfully thanked the Latvians.

The Georgians in attendance sang Georgian songs and the mood was one of peace, not anger.
Similar protests and supportive actions were held in Lithuania and Estonia, where over 500 protestors took part in a march against aggression in Georgia. With the exception of a handful of pro-Russia supporters, all events passed peacefully. 

Military intervention and the future
Georgia has called for military assistance from NATO members in its conflict against Russia. Normans Penke, the state secretary of Latvian Foreign Ministry, told the Baltic News Service that the request for military assistance could be granted in two ways: with either troops or equipment.
"Estonia must have a strong army and police, and for that every government is responsible. The experience of Georgia shows that we cannot count on allies alone and trust that they will do the difficult work of defending our country for us," Penke said.

As The Baltic Times went to press, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev called for an immediate ceasefire, saying, "The goal has been reached." But he went on to warn that any aggression or signs of retaliation will be "destroyed."

Despite Medvedev's assurances, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that Russian fighter jets are still involved in action in the towns of Ruisi and Kareli, ruining an ambulance outside South Ossetia.
The next step is in the hands of the international community. Humanitarian aid is at the forefront of Baltic leaders' minds. So many Estonians came forward to volunteer that half had to be turned away. They are also helping Georgia with internet security after a wave of cyber attacks on ministry websites.
Latvia has sent three tons of medical supplies to Georgia already, and Lithuania is offering health rehabilitation and welcomes refugees. 

The West has offered their support throughout this five-day battle, and talks will continue both internationally and in Georgia, as heads of states are meeting to discuss a plan of action in terms of peacekeeping strategies. The main emphasis is assuring Georgia that it is not alone in its struggles.