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Baptist Leader Decries Georgia-Russia Conflict

A Baptist leader in the eastern European state of Georgia says last week’s invasion by Russia is the most serious threat to the former Soviet republic in recent history.

“The fate of Georgia rests upon the shoulders of the international community,” Presiding Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, said in an e-mail report.

On Friday Georgia launched a military strike to reclaim the breakaway province of South Ossetia, after 16 years of semi-independence. Russia responded by sending in tanks and bombing airbases and oil pipelines, including in the country’s capital city of Tbilisi.

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry accused Russia of “massive military aggression.” Russia’s president said Moscow sent troops into South Ossetia to protect its peacekeepers and civilians and accused Georgia of ethnic cleansing.

World leader’s condemned Russia’s attack. The United States called it “dangerous and disproportionate action” and accused Russia of seeking “regime change” in Georgia. The United Nations Security Council met over the weekend hoping to work out a ceasefire.

On Sunday Georgia announced it had withdrawn troops from South Ossetia. Russia responded to the ceasefire with intensified bombing, bringing a new round of criticism. The U.S. warned that “disproportionate and dangerous escalation” in the conflict could harm relations between the two countries.

Some accuse Moscow of inflaming tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia. Many of the region’s 70,000 residents speak Russian and carry Russian passports. Georgia, a U.S. ally, wants to join NATO, a move that Russia opposes, fearing it would lose influence in its border region.

With about 50 churches with about 15,000 active members and 53 mission stations, the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia is regarded the largest and most influential Protestant church, not only in Georgia but also in the whole region of Caucasus.

“We pray that the conflict is peacefully resolved and opposing sides reconciled. Mutual forgiveness and acceptance exercised,” Songulashvili said. “We mourn about the death of soldiers, children, men, women, elderly from both sides who lose their lives even as I write this statement.”

The Baptist leader deplored “injustice, aggression and the conflict resolution at the cost of civilian lives.”

“We call on the international community, religious leaders and all the people of goodwill for their support of the long suffering people of Georgia,” the archbishop said.

Songulashvili said the struggle “does create a dilemma” for Western nations.

“Either they have to support Georgia and uphold its struggle for justice, peace and democracy, or stay silent, in fear of Russian influence, in this moment of great distress for the Georgian people,” he said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.