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Georgia Conflict May Be Part Of Larger Russian Plan

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. It has been a day of fast-moving reports on the conflict between Russia and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Georgia has accused Russia of breaking a cease-fire, a charge that Russia denies, and today Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia has seriously overreached in Georgia.

That sentiment is shared by leaders of some other former Soviet bloc countries.

SIEGEL: Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was joined last night at a rally in his capital by leaders of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine. There is a common view among those states, all neighboring Russia, all dominated by Moscow in the Cold War era, a view that Russia is engaged in imperialist policies nowadays.

Joining us to talk about that view is a Ukrainian analyst, Volodymyr Kulyk. Dr. Kulyk, welcome to the program.

Mr. VOLODYMYR KULYK (National Academy of Science of Ukraine): Hello.

SIEGEL: The Russians say their intentions in Georgia are really just about protecting minorities. This is not a broad assault on Georgian independence. What do you say to that?

Dr. KULYK: I don't believe this is about protection of minorities because Russian troops march far from the borders of South Ossetia or Abkhazia, and there were no Georgian minorities there, so I think that was used as a pretext to attack Georgia and to teach Georgians a lesson and to teach all other post-Soviet republics a lesson.

SIEGEL: Well, Ukraine is a former Soviet republic. If there's a lesson that Moscow is teaching here, what lesson do you think the leaders of your country take away?

Dr. KULYK: First and foremost, stop thinking of joining NATO. Stop thinking that you can ever leave the sphere of Russia's influence. That's what some people came to believe, and Russia has been concerned about that, and so this is the right time for Russia to try to revert back to the situation of stable dependence of Ukraine on Russia.

SIEGEL: One potential irritant to - I guess it is a current irritant - to Russian-Ukrainian relations concerns the naval base on the Crimean Peninsula that's part of Ukraine, but it's where the Russian Black Sea fleet is still based. It's a former Soviet naval base. The question is, will Russia be able to continue using that base? How might that be affected by this crisis?

Dr. KULYK: If Ukraine just allow Russia to proceed as it wishes, that would rather humiliating. If, on the other hand, Ukraine pressures too hard to impose some conditions on Russia's return their vessels to Ukraine, that might be used as an excuse for escalating relations with Ukraine. So this is a real challenge to Ukraine, and I don't know what is the best way of responding to it.

But I see that President Yushchenko is ready to demonstrate a hard line, but unfortunately it is not the united position of the Ukrainian leadership.

SIEGEL: One possible reading of events in Georgia this past week would be this: The United States and Europe really would like to have Georgia as a member of the Community of Western Democratic Nations, but if you're talking about going to war for Georgia to help it defend its borders, that's going too far.

If that indeed is the lesson of the Russian invasion of Georgia, what's the message to Ukraine?

Dr. KULYK: Not to provoke Russia and thus a situation on the Western partners when there will be no reasonable response. So that's exactly what Saakashvili has done, unfortunately.

SIEGEL: Dr. Kulyk, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Dr. KULYK: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Volodymyr Kulyk, who is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies at the National Academy of Science of Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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