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EU Must Stand Up To Russia In Georgia, Intellectuals Say

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel: "A new wall is being built in Europe..."
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The European Union must define a strategy to help Georgia regain its pro-Russian breakaway regions or face betraying the project of a united Europe that brought down the Berlin Wall, a group of European intellectuals have said.

In an open letter released on September 22, the authors -- including former Czech President Vaclav Havel and French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy -- said Western failure to respond to "the dismemberment of a friendly nation" would have serious global consequences.

"Twenty years after the emancipation of half of the continent, a new wall is being built in Europe -- this time across the sovereign territory of Georgia," they wrote.

Russia recognized the rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states last year after crushing a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in a five-day war.

Georgia's Western allies condemned Moscow's response as "disproportionate."

But ties with energy giant Russia, frozen after the war, are back on and there is little sign of Western pressure to force Russia's withdrawal of troops from both regions under the terms of an EU-brokered cease-fire deal.

An EU-commissioned inquiry is due to submit its findings on the causes of the conflict by the end of September.

Western diplomats say Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili blundered into war by attacking the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, on the evening of August 7 after fatal clashes with separatists and years of escalating tensions with Russia.

Seventy years after the start of World War II, the authors of the letter -- published in London's "Guardian" and other European newspapers -- said attention should focus on which country invaded the other, "rather than which soldier shot the first bullet."

"A big power will always find or engineer a pretext to invade a neighbor whose independence it resents," the letter said, referring to Adolf Hitler's claim that Poland started hostilities in 1939 and the blame placed on Finland by Stalin for the Soviet invasion in 1940.

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, the authors urged the 27-member EU to define a "proactive strategy to help Georgia peacefully regain its territorial integrity and obtain the withdrawal of Russian forces illegally stationed on Georgian soil."

"Nobody wants a confrontation with Moscow or a return to the hostile atmosphere of the Cold War. But, equally, it is essential that the EU and its member states sends a clear and unequivocal message to the current leadership in Russia," the letter said.

"At stake is nothing less than the fate of the project to which we continue to dedicate our lives: the peaceful and democratic reunification of the European continent."