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Published: Saturday, 5/9/2009

Show of force

WHAT are NATO and the United States doing putting forces in the unstable, nonmember, Caucasus state of Georgia for a military exercise?

On the eve of multilateral military operations in Georgia, armored troops of that country staged a mutiny against its president, Mikhail Saakashvili.

This action by the country s military was another in a sequence of political developments that demonstrate lack of support for the president among the Georgian population.

Mr. Saakashvili was elected president in 2004 but has been dogged by opposition, to which he has responded with sometimes thuggish repression. He, of course, attributes all of the opposition to him to Russia. This may be partly true, in that Georgia does have a significant Russian minority among its population.

On the other hand, Russian troops decisively defeated Georgian forces loyal to Mr. Saakashvili last August and it is clear that, in general, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin do not consider Georgia to be a threat, with one exception.

Russia does not want Georgia to join NATO, and it has made that clear to the United States and the other members of the alliance. Three other countries Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Serbia dropped out of the Georgia exercises.

What is unclear from the point of view of the Obama Administration, which professes to desire better relations with Russia, is why the United States continues to play a central role in military exercises that the Russians regard as a provocation? It is not as if Mr. Saakashvili s government is a beacon of democracy or good government.

It appears to be a case of misguided U.S. priorities, in which military practice has not yet caught up with the change in policy that arrived with the new administration. It s not that the United States should encourage Russia s bullying of its neighbors. It shouldn t.

But why provoke the Russians unnecessarily in the name of a Georgian regime whose own future is in question?

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