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U.S. limited in Georgia crisis

American effort to spread democracy wanes in post-Iraq era.

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"In many respects, Saakashvili got too close to the US, and the US got too close to Saakashvili.... Perhaps that made him overreach," says Charles Kupchan, senior fellow for Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Ukraine, among other nations, will surely watch the outcome of this crisis closely, according to Mr. Kupchan. US hopes of girdling Russia with Western-oriented governments now appear in question, as Moscow reasserts influence over its "near abroad."

US hopes that Russia would be essentially a benign economic partner may also have been dashed when Russian tanks rolled into Georgian territory.

"Victory in this war with no consequences for Russia will reinforce antidemocratic forces in Russia, increase the militarization of its foreign policy, and encourage Russia to take more risks elsewhere on its borders," says Stephen Jones, professor of Russian and Eurasian studies at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass.

With the US far from the area of conflict, European attitudes will be crucial. Yet on Georgia and Russia, different European countries take different positions, and they have serious internal disagreements as well.

The European position tends to skew along lines of interest and history. Older European states, such as France and Germany, have strong economic and energy ties to Russia and see themselves as necessarily working with Moscow. Former Warsaw Pact states like Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic nations view Moscow with real suspicion based on bitter recent history as involuntary allies of the Soviet Union.

Britain, increasingly wary of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's Russia, takes a dim view of Moscow after a season of tensions and spats. East German-born Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, regards Prime Minister Putin at least as a question mark, but she has been skillful at pragmatic moves that have kept Berlin-Moscow relations strong.

"Nothing meaningful can be done as a matter of American policy if there is no consensus among European states that this represents something deeply shocking," says Mr. Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Robert Marquand in Paris contributed to this report. Material from Associated Press was also used.

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