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When Russia Attacked Georgia, Was It Also Striking At The West?

As Russia agreed it to a ceasefire on Tuesday, saying its invasion of Georgia has "punished" the country enough, TNR's Seyward Darby spoke with Charles Fairbanks, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former deputy assistant secretary in the Department of State (and father of our own Eve Fairbanks), who spends six months of the year teaching at Ilia Chavchavadze State University in Georgia. Fairbanks describes the war as "deeply, deeply depressing," with far-reaching implications that will influence policy in the last months of President George W. Bush's administration and all future relations between Russia and the West.

The New Republic: This conflict seems as much an attack by Russia on the West as it does an assault on Georgia. What do you believe Russia's main motivations to invade were, and whom, ultimately, was it targeting?

Charles Fairbanks: There is incredible resentment [in Russia toward the West] because of the terrible, wrenching changes that occurred in what was once the Soviet Union. We sponsored these "reforms" that helped powerful people steal most of the public property, took away the empire and shattered the Soviet Union, as they see it. This is like some kind of bubble at the bottom of a stagnant pond: It suddenly burst up now to the surface, and that's the cause of the war.

Everyone in Russia and everyone in Georgia, minus half a dozen people I could name, regards this as a proxy war, like the Korean War. They all thought Russia and Georgia were waging war, but we were the hand behind the glove of Georgia. So absolutely, without any question [Russia was targeting the West]. The more recent annoyances were that, while the United States constantly talked about friendship with Russia, and Bush talked about Putin as a real friend and a Christian, from the Russian point of view, every specific aspect of American foreign policy was hostile to Russian pride and to Russian interests. The leading items are NATO expansion--which achieved many good things, but it had an inevitable price, which no one was saving up to pay--and Caspian strategy, which, from the Russian point of view, amounts to filching away pieces of what is, in principle, the Russian empire.

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has pointed to the West as the source of blame for the conflict. Is he correct?

He's absolutely wrong there, and he ought to be contradicted in public by President Bush or other public officials. The United States at every level, ranging from the Georgia desk officer to President Bush speaking to Saakashvili, warned Georgia repeatedly against invading South Ossetia or getting involved in any Russian provocation.

Click here for the full interview.

--The Editors