By Mikhail Gorbachev
August 12, 2008; Page A13
The roots of this tragedy lie in the decision of
Nevertheless, it was still possible to find a political solution. For some time, relative calm was maintained in
Through all these years,
The Georgian leadership flouted this key principle.
What happened on the night of Aug. 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas.
Mounting a military assault against innocents was a reckless decision whose tragic consequences, for thousands of people of different nationalities, are now clear. The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of
In other words, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was expecting unconditional support from the West, and the West had given him reason to think he would have it. Now that the Georgian military assault has been routed, both the Georgian government and its supporters should rethink their position.
Hostilities must cease as soon as possible, and urgent steps must be taken to help the victims -- the humanitarian catastrophe, regretfully, received very little coverage in Western media this weekend -- and to rebuild the devastated towns and villages. It is equally important to start thinking about ways to solve the underlying problem, which is among the most painful and challenging issues in the
When the problems of
Old grievances are a heavy burden. Healing is a long process that requires patience and dialogue, with non-use of force an indispensable precondition. It took decades to bring to an end similar conflicts in
Small nations of the
The region's political leaders need to realize this. Instead of flexing military muscle, they should devote their efforts to building the groundwork for durable peace.
Over the past few days, some Western nations have taken positions, particularly in the U.N. Security Council, that have been far from balanced. As a result, the Security Council was not able to act effectively from the very start of this conflict. By declaring the Caucasus, a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent, a sphere of its "national interest," the
The international community's long-term aim could be to create a sub-regional system of security and cooperation that would make any provocation, and the very possibility of crises such as this one, impossible. Building this type of system would be challenging and could only be accomplished with the cooperation of the region's countries themselves. Nations outside the region could perhaps help, too -- but only if they take a fair and objective stance. A lesson from recent events is that geopolitical games are dangerous anywhere, not just in the
The writer was the last president of the