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Russia trifles with genocide

A 2005 UN mandate that allows invasions to end genocides cannot be claimed by Moscow.

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Of Russia's many excuses for invading Georgia, its claim of preventing genocide has set back a new idea in human history. In 2005, the UN said the international community must intervene in countries suffering mass atrocities – putting mercy before sovereignty. Russia abused this idea in Georgia. The world now needs to save this humanitarian impulse to prevent real genocides.

No mass atrocities were occurring, or were likely to occur, in Georgia's breakaway enclave of South Ossetia on the night of Aug. 7-8 when Russia invaded. Later reports by journalists indicated Georgian forces had been attacked first by Russian-backed insurgents. A few hundred civilians on both sides were killed in the crossfire and bombardments.

While tragic, the killings hardly rise to the level of genocide. And Russia had other means to calm or prevent the situation.

The fact that Russia didn't first use diplomacy or didn't restrict its forces to South Ossetia only reinforces reports that Moscow instigated the conflict in order to send a message. It really wanted the West to acknowledge its territorial imperium and its ability to command the region's oil reserves.

Instead, Russia claims the same moral and legal authority to intervene to protect South Ossetians as did NATO in 1999 to rescue Kosovo's ethnic Albanians. But the two conflicts are very different. And the distinctions are important in order to preserve the UN's 2005 mandate, which is often called "responsibility to protect," or R2P.

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