The bullying and wholly disproportionate Russian response against Georgia seems aimed as much at the United States and Western Europe as protecting the rights of ethnic Russians in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And Moscow is clearly counting on the Baltic republics and Ukraine to pay attention to the fate of Georgia.
Whatever Georgia’s provocation — and these territorial and ethnic disputes are both complicated and ancient — Russia was clearly spoiling for a fight, and the size and speed of the incursions by air, armor and naval power indicate that this brutal attempt to humble and cow a small, pro-Western, democratic nation had been in the planning for some time.
Russian assertiveness has become increasingly unsettling. It was needlessly belligerent over Kosovo and a proposed NATO missile defense system. Critics of the Kremlin, including journalists, have been assassinated both in and out of Russia. The increasingly rapacious regime has made investment risky for Westerners and their Russian partners. Former Russian president and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has nurtured a national nostalgia for the less savory aspects of the old Soviet system.
The ideal situation would be for a ceasefire, a pull-back by the Russians, talks between Tbilisi and Moscow on a long-term settlement, and perhaps international peacekeepers similar to what worked in the Balkans.
But Putin’s Russia may be like the Red Army of old in Eastern Europe: Once they’re in, they’re not inclined to get out. Militarily, there’s not much the West could do about it, but it doesn’t mean the European Union and the United States has to accept it.
Out of undue sensitivity to Moscow’s sense of being aggrieved, Russia has been given positions in organizations like the G-8 disproportionate to its actual place in the world economy. This deference should be an early casualty of Georgia. The threat of detaching Russia from the world banking system would certainly give Russians pause because they don’t trust their own banks and government with their money. Long-term, Europe should make it a priority to reduce its exposure to Russian energy black mail.
Russia’s invasion — for that is surely what it is of Georgia is dragging Europe and Russia in a direction they really don’t want to go.