Jim Beam column:Ukraine isn’t only Putin goal

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, November 1, 2023

While the U.S. House is trying to decide on more aid for Ukraine’s war against Russia, “60 Minutes” Sunday night reminded its viewers that the Kremlin already has a strong hold on the small country of Georgia. Here is how the program opened:

“The day Russia invaded one of its neighbors, waged a bloody war and seized a fifth of the neighbor’s territory, fear and shock rippled throughout the region,” the story said.

“We are not talking about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rather the small country of Georgia. That invasion was more than 15 years ago. Vladimir Putin’s playbook hasn’t changed much.”

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No, it hasn’t and GOP U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made that clear in a news report Friday by NBC News.

Graham said, “I don’t know … I’m hoping he (Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson of Louisiana)  will work with us to find more transparency, more, you know, kind of a more defined mission. But let me just say, if you pull the plug on Ukraine, and you think we’re safer, and that China will not be more aggressive, you’re making a huge mistake.”

“60 Minutes” said Georgia, which shares a 556-mile border with Russia, is still trying to remove the grip of the Kremlin. Sharyn Alfonsi interviewed Salome Zourabichvili, the president of Georgia, who said Putin has launched a quiet invasion of Georgia in an attempt to extend Russia’s reach.

Georgia has submitted an application to become part of the European Union with hopes of gaining a Western insurance policy to protect it. Ukraine has the same goal through its effort to become a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

Zourabichvili said three weeks before Russia launched its first airstrike  in Georgia, Moscow hit the country with a series of misinformation cyberattacks.

The five-day, bloody battle in Georgia that followed ended with Russia seizing 10% of Georgia’s land. Zourabichvili said the mostly muted reaction to that war laid the groundwork for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s plan to bring as many of the former Soviet Republics back into the Russian fold.

How is Putin seizing control in Georgia?

Today, a fifth of Georgia is occupied by the Russian military and an estimated 8,000 Russian troops are inside the Georgian border.

Trucks rolling through Georgia are carrying European cargo across the border into Russia, some in violation of Western sanctions.

Thousands of Russian nationals are also entering the country in cars and on foot. Some Georgians worry Putin loyalists could be entering the country too, laying the groundwork for Russia’s next move. Since the war, Georgia has become home to 100,000 Russians.

Alfonsi asked the president why Georgia doesn’t stop the Russians coming into the country. Zourabichvili said she doesn’t have the executive powers. She said those powers are in the hands of Irakli Garibashvili, its prime minister.

Ana Tavadze is a member of Georgia’s Shame Movement, a group of thousands of young followers working towards Georgia’s entry into the European Union. She said, “We’re going with a government that’s completely corrupt, a government that’s pro-Russian, clearly anti-Western, and clearly does not really care about what the majority of the population wants and needs.”

Dachi Imedadze, another member of the group, said,  “The Russians are buying apartments in Georgia every 33 minutes. They are purchasing a piece of land every 67 minutes. And they’re registering a business every 26 minutes. So, I think we are on the brink of a very dangerous situation in Georgia.”

Tavadze said, “If Russia wins, it means loss of freedom, loss of everything that we fought for in the past 30 years basically. It’s a fight for values, it’s a fight for where you want to stand in this big fight for democracy.”

Those goals are exactly why the citizens of Ukraine are defending their country from Putin’s takeover — a fight for democracy. And to think the U.S. might end its support for Ukraine is extremely disturbing. If we do, our allies may follow suit.

NBC said Speaker Johnson a month ago voted with 93 Republicans to cut off Ukraine aid. However, he changed his tune during an interview on Fox News the day after he was sworn in as speaker.

“We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don’t believe it would stop there,” Johnson said. “And it would probably encourage and empower China to perhaps make a move on Taiwan. We have these concerns. We’re not going to abandon them.”

We hope those who elected him as speaker will agree.