Russia's big Caucasus win
Moscow has gained leverage, threatened Georgia's pro-West leader, and bolstered national pride.
PARIS and Moscow
In less than a week of military operations sparked by Georgia's assault on its breakaway province of South Ossetia, Moscow is emerging as the immediate winner. A still-stunned West is looking for ways to censure Russia for its "disproportionate" incursion into Georgia that has reshaped the strategic game in the Caucasus and beyond to Russia's great advantage.Skip to next paragraph
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"If the Russians stop hostilities now, they will have redrawn the whole strategic situation in the Caucasus, to the detriment of the Americans," says François Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. "No one will invest in Georgia, in oil pipelines, in new ventures [there] now.... The game is over. In the new version of the Great Game, the Russians can cash in." The scope of the "victory" is substantial: Moscow controls territory and leverage, has incapacitated the Georgian military, denied Tblisi its much-hoped-for NATO status, and put the Georgian leader it despises – Mikheil Saakashvili – into a tough position.
It has issued a symbolic warning to Ukraine's westward leanings, asserted clout in oil and gas pipeline futures, denied Georgia the possibility of reclaiming breakaway provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and affirmed a deeply Russian set of hard-line political values regarding the disputed front lines of the old cold war.
Moreover, by agreeing to halt its military on Tuesday, working with French mediator Nicolas Sarkozy, and only "recommending" that Mr. Saakashvili step down, Moscow is arguing it has reasonably protected its interests and not overthrown a sovereign state.
Moscow also appears to be slam-dunking the cease-fire details. The truce, which Saakashvili blamed Russia for breaking Wednesday, contains a "nonuse of force" clause that forbids Georgia to take action inside South Ossetia, a terrific concession. Nor are international peacekeepers coming soon; Russia gained an "additional security role" that formalizes its peacekeeping role in South Ossetia despite US calls for a more independent force in the region.
Russia is pushing for international talks on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which could lead to eventual backing of referendums that would allow those republics to formally separate from Georgia.
Both US President George Bush and Saakashvili cited reports of Russian miltary actions "inconsistent" with the truce Wednesday. But inside Russia, the venture is boosting pride and morale – part of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's mission to cast off the humiliation of losing the cold war, and reestablish a perception of Russia as a great power.
"At the moment it appears that Russia will have gotten positive benefits from the use of force across its border," says a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Despite Mr. Putin's clear assertion of personal authority in directing the Russian military, at least one Russian analyst describes it as a victory for new president Dmitri Medvedev. "For Medvedev, the outcome [is] a war that's been won. It's his personal victory," says Gleb Pavlovsky, a longtime Kremlin adviser and head of the Effective Policy Foundation in Moscow. But Andrei Kolesnikov, editor of the liberal New Time newsweekly in Moscow, disagrees. "The image of Medvedev is the biggest casualty. We, and the West, were hoping that Russia at last had a young, liberal, reforming leader. Now, after these events, he comes off looking like a tough guy, and there is an impression that he's totally dependent on Putin."