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U.S., Allies ‘Stand With People of Georgia,’ Bush Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2008 – President Bush today pledged the United States will support the former Soviet republic of Georgia in its time of need, as Russian troops still occupy parts of the country. Video

“The United States and our allies stand with the people of Georgia and their democratically elected government,” Bush said at the White House.

“Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected. Moscow must honor its commitment to withdraw its invading forces from all Georgian territory,” Bush declared, noting the United States is working closely with its European allies and other members of the G-7 world economic organization to bring resolution to the crisis.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now conferring with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, the country’s capital city, Bush said. Rice is in Georgia to express “America’s wholehearted support for Georgia’s democracy,” Bush said.

Bush said Rice later will travel to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to update him on the situation in Georgia. Bush said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is keeping him briefed on the ongoing humanitarian mission in Georgia.

On Aug. 8, Russian forces crossed the border into the contested northern Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after Georgian military forces had clashed with separatists in South Ossetia the day before. Georgia was part of the former Soviet Union before declaring its independence in 1991. However, South Ossetia and Abkhazia often have expressed their displeasure at being under Georgian rule and have sought to ally themselves with Russia, to the north.

Georgia, and Ukraine, another former Soviet satellite state in Eastern Europe that also left Moscow’s orbit after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, both have expressed their desire to join NATO. Russia’s political leaders often have voiced their displeasure at the thought of such an event occurring.

Americans may wonder why events taking place in far-away Georgia may matter to the United States, Bush noted.

“In the years since it gained independence after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Georgia has become a courageous democracy, with people making the tough choices that are required of free societies,” Bush said.

Since 2003, he noted, the Georgian people have held free elections, opened up their economy and built the foundations that support a successful democracy. Georgia also has deployed its military forces for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush said, “to help others achieve the liberty that they’ve struggled so hard to obtain.”

To further strengthen its democracy, Georgia has sought to join the free institutions of the West, such as NATO, Bush said.

“The people of Georgia have cast their lot with the free world, and we will not cast them aside,” Bush vowed. Georgia’s aspiring new democracy, he said, represents an inspiring new chapter in Europe’s history.

Europe has moved beyond World War I, World War II and the Cold War tensions that existed between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world during the middle-to-late 2Oth century, Bush said.

“And now, for the first time in memory, Europe is becoming a continent that is whole, free and at peace,” he said. “Unfortunately, Russia has tended to view the expansion of freedom and democracy as a threat to its interests.”

However, “free and prosperous societies on Russia’s borders will advance Russia’s interests by serving as sources of stability and economic opportunity,” Bush said.

Bush said he hopes Russia’s leaders will recognize that a future of cooperation and peace will benefit all parties. “The Cold War is over,” Bush declared. “The days of satellite states and spheres of influence are behind us. A contentious relationship with Russia is not in America’s interest, and a contentious relationship with America is not in Russia’s interest.”

Through its military actions in Georgia, Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with other nations, Bush said.

“Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century,” Bush said. “Only Russia can decide whether it will now put itself back on the path of responsible nations, or continue to pursue a policy that promises only confrontation and isolation.

“Russia must respect the freedom of its neighbors,” Bush said, to restore its world standing and credibility.

Russia’s air, land and sea assaults on Georgia over the past few days represent its attempt “to punish Georgia for daring to try to integrate with the West economically and politically and in security arrangements,” Gates said yesterday at a Pentagon news conference.

He added that the invasion of Georgia is causing many Western nations to reexamine their relations with Russia. “My guess is that everyone is going to be looking at Russia through a different set of lenses as … we look ahead,” the defense secretary said.

“I think Russia’s got some serious work to do to try and work its way back into the family of nations that are trying to work together and build democracy and build … their economies, working together,” Gates said.

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