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Russia’s desire to control Georgia did not stop there. In 2009, protesters took to the streets to demand the resignation of Georgian President Saakashvili, and Russia vocally supported them. That April, Russia reportedly violated the ceasefire and moved it forces to within 25 miles of Tbilisi. Russia’s rhetoric reached a fever pitch as Georgia permitted NATO to hold military exercises on its territory. President Medvedev warned, “I want to specifically stress that responsibility for possible negative consequences of these decisions will fully rest on the shoulders of those who made them and carry them out.” Russia’s envoy to NATO likewise said the exercises could “significantly affect the stability of the entire South Caucasus.”
In May, the Georgian government foiled a military coup launched from a base near Tbilisi. Georgia said that the plotters were financed by Russia, and a former Georgian special forces major that was arrested confirmed Russia’s role in the coup. He said that Russia planned to send in 5,000 soldiers to complete the overthrow of the government as the soldiers at the base approached Tbilisi. The quick defeat of the coup apparently stopped Russia from moving ahead.
The Russians continued to try to justify the overthrow of the Georgian government. It reacted to an August 2009 suicide bombing of a police station in Ingushetia by claiming Georgia was training and protecting members of Al-Qaeda so they could attack Russia, specifically oil and gas pipelines. As violence in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia escalated into 2010, Russia always attributed it to Georgian support.
Concern that Russia would invade Georgia heightened after the March 29, 2010 subway bombings in Moscow. Chechen terrorist Doku Umarov claimed responsibility, but the Russians were quick to suggest a link to the Georgian government. Deputy Foreign Minister Patrushev said, “We have had information that individual members of Georgian special forces support contacts with terrorist organizations in the Russian North Caucasus. We must check this also in relation to the acts of terror in Moscow.” He also described President Saakashvili as an “unpredictable” threat who may start a war without warning.
Senator Mark Kirk was right when he said that if Russia is found to be behind a bombing targeting the U.S. embassy, it would “put to lie any ‘reset’ in bilateral relations.” The U.S. should be under no illusion. Russia still seeks to dominate its neighbors, and America’s Georgian allies are at the top of the list.
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