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Lessons from Saakashvili on Confronting Putin

11:19 AM, Mar 1, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The Wall Street Journal's "Saturday Interview" with former Georgia president Mikheil Saakashvili:

If Russia keeps up the heat on Crimea, Mr. Saakashvili says, then the West should hit the Putin circle with sanctions. "It would be the same" reaction as in Ukraine. "The last time I was in Miami, it was full of rich Russians. If you tell them you can no longer come here and you have to freeze in Moscow, then they will turn on Putin." Western governments have "much more leverage than they realize. They just need to apply it."

Georgia's experience suggests, however, that there are limits to the free world's appetite for confrontation. Military help is off the table, as Mr. Saakashvili is the first to say. Since the Soviet collapse, the West has deferred to Russia's dominance in its backyard. Mr. Saakashvili, who has a law degree from Columbia University, cultivated a friendship with President Bush and sent Georgian troops to support the U.S. in Iraq to win America's support against Kremlin influence. A pendant around his neck inscribed with Churchill's "never give in" speech was a gift from Sen. John McCain. Despite Mr. Saakashvili's lobbying, the door to the West's clubs never cracked open for his little country.

The 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia and subsequent occupation of parts of it meant that the country had to shelve its EU and NATO ambitions for as long as Russia remains a hostile power. After his election, President Obama launched a "reset" in relations with Russia to smooth over the tensions from the Georgian war. The new president wouldn't take calls from Misha, as everyone informally calls Mr. Saakashvilli. "It took me three years to get to the Oval Office," he says. "Not that I enjoyed these tours to Washington, but it sent the wrong signal to the Russians."

This time, he says, the U.S. should take a firmer line with Russia, and warn Mr. Putin to stay out of Ukraine. An invitation to Russia to work together on Ukraine—as extended by European and U.S. officials this week—only reinforces the impression of spoils on the table to be divided. "That's totally misunderstood by Putin," he says.

Whole thing here.

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