Russia's big Caucasus win
Moscow has gained leverage, threatened Georgia's pro-West leader, and bolstered national pride.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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"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."
Diplomats and foreign-policy experts say that history may record 8-8-08 as the beginning of consequential changes in the global system, which Moscow suggests has been compromised by the US-led war in Iraq and NATO intervention in Kosovo. It may prefigure a "tri-polar" world, with the US, Russia, and China as heavyweights. Russian tanks and China's Olympic "coming-out party" offer the relevant symbols.
For the West, the implications are still being tabulated, and "a lot of work is being done on this," says one Western diplomat. "This moment could well mark the end of an era in Europe during which realpolitik and spheres of influence were supposed to be replaced by new cooperative norms and a country's right to choose its own path," argued former Clinton administration officials for Europe, Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus, in a German Marshall Fund statement. "While no one wants a return to Cold War-style confrontation, Moscow's behavior poses a direct challenge to European and international order."
A quick tabulation: impact of Georgia conflict
Georgia's NATO bid: With secure borders and political stability as membership requirements, NATO is unlikely to admit Georgia soon.
Saakashvili's position: Georgians have publicly rallied behind him, but grumbled about his failed bid to reclaim S. Ossetia.
Oil and gas: Developers from Central Asia and the Caspian will likely face pressure from Moscow to use Russia instead of the South Caucasus bypass route.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Tbilisi wants to reclaim the ethnic breakaway regions, but a Russia-backed referendum based on the Kosovo precedent could make this impossible.
Ukraine: Russia's push into Georgia sends a message of "who's in charge" to those in this key state who wish to integrate with the West.
Russia is "back": Natalya Narochnitskaya of the Russian Institute of Democracy and Cooperation says that Russia "has a renewed national and state will.