It is true that many Russians were humiliated by the way the Cold War ended, and Putin has persuaded many to blame Boris Yeltsin and Russian democrats for this surrender to the West. The mood is reminiscent of Germany after World War I, when Germans complained about the “shameful Versailles diktat” imposed on a prostrate Germany by the victorious powers and about the corrupt politicians who stabbed the nation in the back.
Now, as then, these feelings are understandable. Now, as then, however, they are being manipulated to justify autocracy at home and to convince Western powers that accommodation — or to use the once-respectable term, appeasement — is the best policy.
But the reality is that on most of these issues it is Russia, not the West or little Georgia, that is doing the pushing. It was Russia that raised a challenge in Kosovo, a place where Moscow had no discernible interests beyond the expressed pan-Slavic solidarity. It was Russia that decided to turn a minor deployment of a few defensive interceptors in Poland, which could not possibly be used against Russia’s vast missile arsenal, into a major geopolitical confrontation. And it is Russia that has precipitated a war against Georgia by encouraging South Ossetian rebels to raise the pressure on Tbilisi and make demands that no Georgian leader could accept. If Saakashvili had not fallen into Putin’s trap this time, something else would have eventually sparked the conflict.
Diplomats in Europe and Washington believe Saakashvili made a mistake by sending troops to South Ossetia last week. Perhaps. But his truly monumental mistake was to be president of a small, mostly democratic and adamantly pro-Western nation on the border of Putin’s Russia.
—Robert Kagan. We will surely not go to war over South Ossetia–it does not impact our security interests seriously enough and will not have any chance to unless energy supply disruptions become especially pronounced. But it should be clear that Russia–weakened as it is–will do a lot within what it perceives as its sphere of influence–to challenge American foreign policy interests in as significant a fashion as possible. The Cold War may be over. But Russian and American foreign policy interests have not achieved any kind of bilateral harmony worth celebrating.