After a serious misjudgment by Georgia’s President, Russia is back on the military world stage. For the West, this means a serious challenge to finally define its relationship to Russia – most likely at the expense of Moscow’s small neighbours.
Like always: Misery caused by misjudgment. (Screenshot via Ivan, Flickr)
As the drama approaches its climax, the world stares in shocked amazement how fast things got out of hand: On Friday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili went to fulfill his election-campaign-promise to tighten the grip on South Ossetia, a de-facto-independent piece of land ruled by Russian thugs. But after troops went in, Russia came to help South Ossetia, not only because its people recently were given Russian passports.
From there on, the former world power let its military strength unfold, and everything looks like it is leading into a humiliating defeat for Mr. Saakashvili (though the situation on the ground is unclear and full of spin from both sides). The 40-year-old politician, known for his over-confidence, had overestimated his ties to the European Union and especially to the U.S.: With him being the aggressor in the first place (and showing signs of autocracy when cracking down the opposition in 2007), he has made it difficult for the West to show any clear support; as a result, he will have to swallow the de-facto annexation of South Ossetia by Russia.
For the big neighbor, which clearly shows it is still being dominated by Vladimir Putin, Mr. Saakashvili’s mistake has provided it with a chance for a comeback on the world stage, though a bloody one. Russia’s military victory has proven that the country is still ready, willing and able to do what it takes to keep and expand its sphere of influence. It has also brought the American policy to stretch NATO further east to an end for years to come, along with its dreams to transport hydrocarbon ressources of the Caspian Basin to Europe without passing Russia.
On a geopolitical level, Russia has sent a warning to the West not to mingle in its business. Talks of a new cold war are exaggerated, though, as Mr. Putin still wants to sell energy to Europe and needs trade partnership. But the damage for the west has been done: NATO, the EU and the U.S. will have a hard time brokering a deal that does not look like a complete Russian victory; at the same time, Georgia is will be in danger to experience a pro-Russian backlash if Mr. Saakashvili stays too long (or is removed too quickly). Do not expect more frozen conflicts to defrost, but do expect finding a way to deal with Russia in the next few years to be high on Brussel’s NATO and EU (look for France and Germany teaming up against a EU-member-block of former Soviet satellite states) agenda. After Mr. Saakashvili’s misjudgment, these decisions might be pragmatic enough to seriously undermine a lot of the hopes the people of Georgia and Ukraine had after the Rose and the Orange Revolution.