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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unprovoked Onslaught

The past week was a trying one for Georgia. Air, rail, sea, land and postal links were severed unilaterally by our largest neighbor, the Russian Federation. Immediately thereafter, Georgians living in Russia were subjected to a form of ethnic targeting not seen in Europe since the Balkans in the 1990s -- and the harassment is tinged with even more sinister historical overtones. Hundreds are being deported; business owners are being harassed; schoolchildren are being forcibly registered with local police; women are being gratuitously tested for sexually transmitted diseases; and children are being torn from families.

It is easy, amids these bleak headlines, to lose sight of an even more important story: In just three short years, my country has been transformed from a gangster-run economic and political basket case into a budding democracy with one of the world's fastest-growing economies. The World Bank recently lauded Georgia as the No. 1 reformer in the world and the least corrupt transitional democracy. Last month, NATO admitted Georgia into a new stage of membership talks, recognizing our political, economic and military progress. And just last week, we completed an action plan with the European Union that charts our irrevocable course toward a fully Western future.

It is this remarkable metamorphosis -- capped last week by full-fledged, free and fair local elections, hailed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for their "professional and inclusive manner" -- that gives us strength in this moment of crisis. All of our gains have been hard-won. Our citizens have long suffered privations and only now are tasting the sweetness of liberty: the opportunity to vote, to lead fruitful lives, to speak their voice and to chart a future for their children untrammeled by poverty, mafias or discrimination.

We will not jeopardize the progress we have made by any rash acts. It is not inconceivable that Moscow is trying to taunt us into a self-destructive response, one that would provide an excuse for Russia to smite the success story to its south. After all, democracy can be contagious. But there is no risk of our acting irresponsibly, despite the caricatures of our government, spread by ill-wishers, of being impetuous. Our actions in recent weeks fly in the face of this. We are constrained by democratic instincts and our responsibility to citizens and allies.

In fact, the most puzzling aspect of Russia's latest onslaught is that it was unprovoked. One week ago, after holding a group of Russian intelligence officers for just 72 hours after they were caught red-handed spying on Georgia, my government released them. Regrettably, this was not the first instance when individuals involved in similar -- even lethal -- acts were detained and handed over to Russian authorities.

We believed this latest gesture of goodwill, magnanimous by any measure, would mark a hopeful turning point in our troubled relations with the current Russian government. For far too long, we have been subjected to Moscow's economic sanctions, its mortal meddling in our breakaway provinces, and its contempt for our democratic institutions. We wanted to mark a break from this history of distrust. Little could we have imagined that, instead, Moscow would unleash a wave of retribution that many in Russia have labeled ethnic cleansing. Still, even while Russian police were hunting down Georgians, I have been heartened by the courage of many ethnic Russians who have taken to the streets wearing a yellow star with the words: "I am Georgian."

Despite this downward spiral, conditions exist for a peaceful resolution to the present impasse. Georgia poses no physical threat to Russia. How could a nation of less than five million challenge a nuclear-armed power over 30 times its size? But for us to stand tall, our friends must stand tall beside us. If any one of us gives in to bullying or tolerates the politics of ethnic hatred, we are all at risk. The values that hold together the international order are like a chain -- only as strong as its weakest link. To jeopardize or neglect this link implies peril for the entire trans-Atlantic community. Today, Georgia has become an integral part of the Western security fabric.

The essential question confronting the international community is this: Is Moscow reacting to a specific, unique threat it perceives from Georgia? Or is Georgia a target of opportunity, a chimerical foil created by some politicians for domestic purposes? Put another way, does the malignancy reside in Georgia or Russia? A misdiagnosis could have dire consequences for Western security. Because if the international community downplays the current rift -- or worse, if it pressures Georgia to back down on all counts, shunting aside its hard-earned principles and values -- then the problem will simply metastasize to another place.

Russia's vital place in the international order is secure. It is a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council. Its natural resources fuel the European and global economies. It owns a fierce nuclear force. No one, let alone Georgia, should ever call for isolating Russia in the manner of a North Korea or Zimbabwe. At the same time, however, we must not turn a blind eye to what is happening to human rights and the norms of international behavior.

Mikheil Saakashvili is president of Georgia. This comment was published in The Wall Street Journal.,/i>