U.S. limited in Georgia crisis
American effort to spread democracy wanes in post-Iraq era.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Georgia is one of the closest US allies in Eastern Europe. President Mikheil Saakashvili has visited the White House three times in the last four years. Yet this warm relationship did not stop the Kremlin from unleashing a ferocious military response after Georgian troops entered the separatist province of South Ossetia.
US efforts to expand Western influence and spread democracy along Russia's borders may now be threatened. US relations with Russia itself, at the least, are in flux.
"This gets at the stability of the framework the US thought was going to govern the post-cold-war world," says Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Russian leaders on Tuesday said they had ordered a halt to military action in Georgia. The move followed five days of air and land attacks that had routed Georgia's Army and sent Russian troops deep into Georgian territory.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced on national television that Georgia had been punished enough for its move against South Ossetia, which has close ties to Russia. But Medvedev did not immediately announce any withdrawal of forces from current positions and there were reports of continued scattered fighting.
"If there are any emerging hotbeds of resistance or any aggressive actions, you should take steps to destroy them," he told his defense minister at a televised Kremlin meeting.
President Bush, for his part, on Aug. 11 demanded that Russia end its dramatic escalation of violence in Georgia and agree to an immediate cease-fire and international mediation.
"Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century," said Mr. Bush in a statement televised shortly after his return to the US from the Beijing Olympics.
But since the crisis began, there has been no hint that the United States would consider any kind of military move, even logistical aid for Georgian forces, that would bring it into direct conflict with Russia. The US and the West appear to have little leverage over a Moscow that is flush with oil money and eager to reestablish its position along its borders.
"The United States, its allies, and other countries need to send a strong signal to Moscow that creating 19th-century-style spheres of influence and redrawing the borders of the former Soviet Union is a danger to world peace," said Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Heritage Foundation, in an analysis of the impact of the crisis.
Georgian President Saakashvili has long been one of the Bush administration's favorite world leaders. Georgia contributed 2,000 troops to the US effort in Iraq, and Mr. Saakashvili has talked often of his support for Bush administration efforts to spread freedom and democracy among the countries of the former Soviet Union.