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My mind goes back to August 2002 in Tbilisi, as I visited Georgia with John McCain. I remember it feeling rather dark and secretive, with the former-Soviet Union’s heavy hand still making its presence felt. President Eduard Shevardnadze, formerly Soviet minister of foreign affairs, presented a friendlier face to the United States, but was beset by economic problems and corruption charges. At the time I did not fully appreciate the power of the democratic impulses that were just beginning to bubble up and would lead to the democratic Georgian government we now see threatened.
What has happened in Georgia since that time should not be surprising to anyone. Certainly Russia has tried to pretty itself up: it renamed the KGB and even gave its 21st century strongman Vladimir Putin a new title.
But for some time we’ve seen Russia sliding back to its authoritarian comfort zone. Murder, imprisonment and property confiscation are back in vogue for any perceived troublemaker. Former Soviet provinces have faced all forms of intimidation, from thuggish trade shakedowns to cyber attacks that shut down communications with the outside world. And whether a former satellite like Poland or a longtime western ally like Germany, Russia has made overt threats over plans to bring eastern European countries into NATO or to deploy a U.S.-provided missile defense system.
Russia is not above using anything at its disposal to make its point. It is a wealthy nation, built on a petro-economy that provides oil and gas to dependent European nations, which are petrified of having their energy supplies disrupted and are now in their own economic doldrums.
Given all this, Russia’s incursion into Georgia is a logical extension of Putin’s autocratic words and deeds and Russia’s regional ambitions, which must be leaving those nations closest to Russia’s borders – the Baltic states and Ukraine – nervous about a bitter and uneasy winter.
Fred Thompson has been a lawyer, actor and United States Senator. He writes exclusive analysis and commentary for Townhall Magazine.