Yesterday, Russian Prime Minster Vladimir Putin charged that the Bush administration had put Georgia up to attacking South Ossetia in order to influence the upcoming election in November. “We have serious reasons to believe that directly, in the combat zone, citizens of the United States were present and if this is the case, then the suspicion arises that someone in the United States has on purpose created this conflict with the view to exacerbate the situation and create a competitive advantage for one of the presidential candidates in the United States,” he said to CNN’s Matthew Chance. “They needed a small victorious war.”
In a Moscow press conference yesterday, Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the General Staff, said that Russia had found a U.S. passport in a building occupied by the Georgian Interior Ministry near the capital of South Ossetia. Nogovitsyn held up a color photocopy of the passport, issued to a Michael Lee White, but did not identify the American other than to say he is from Texas. The United States had 130 military personnel in Georgia training Georgian forces for Iraq duty, but the State Department has said that none of them were involved in the recent fighting. The Russians have offered no other evidence for their sweeping claims.
“To suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate just sounds not rational,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino yesterday. She’s correct, of course. If Putin’s claim were not so ludicrous, we would think, as Perino suggests, that he had taken leave of his senses. Yet it’s unlikely he has suddenly become deranged.
It is more probable Putin has realized that the West is not resisting his initiatives. We need to remember that it is Russia, and not the Atlantic Alliance, that is cutting ties. So, like other aggressors, the prime minister feels emboldened by recent success. Therefore, it is natural for him to tell a big lie by accusing the United States, with virtually no evidence, of committing grave offenses. Only Putin can tell us why he is embarking on this highly irresponsible and dangerous course of conduct, but it is apparent that, through inflammatory comments like those to CNN, he is testing the resolve of America’s leadership.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, President Bush has adopted the least confrontational tactics possible. It’s clear, however, that this mild course of action is not working. Putin’s wild assertions yesterday reveal that substantially tougher measures are required. And by the look of things, they are required now.