Feature

The trouble with Georgia

Why Russia is winning the Ossetia conflict, and why it matters

What happenedRussian forces attacked neighboring Georgia, hitting military and civilian targets, after Georgia tried to reassert control over the Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia over the weekend. Georgia called for a cease-fire, after its troops were repelled, but Russia said it wouldn’t stop its attacks until all Georgian troops were gone. (AP in Yahoo! News)

What the commentators saidIt’s not clear what Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili expected to achieve, said India’s The Hindu in an editorial, by "attacking and attempting brutally to take military control of" South Ossetia, but what he got was “a bloody nose.” The “diehard ally” of the U.S. “had zero chance of success” against Russia’s overwhelming military might, and now he’s worse off than before.

Perhaps Saakashvili made a strategic blunder, said Robert Kagan in The Washington Post, but “his truly monumental mistake was to be president of a small, mostly democratic and adamantly pro-Western nation on the border of” a “resurgent and revanchist Russia.” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, awash in oil wealth, has clearly decided the time is right to try to restore Russia's "once-dominant role in Eurasia and the world."

By advancing his expansionist aims, Putin clearly comes out on top in this “lose-lose conflict,” said Britain’s The Guardian in an editorial, but at a price. Saakashvili “has now lost South Ossetia for good,” but Russia has harmed U.S. relations and it lost any favorable opinion in Europe, where it had been using oil to play rival nations off one another to great effect.

Still, the U.S. and Europe won’t send troops to stem “the Russian onslaught,” said Michalis Firillas in Israel’s Haaretz, and their “public sympathy will do little for Georgia, just as it does for Tibet and Darfur.” Despite any missteps, Georgia is right that Russia is illegally bullying the little guy, and “it is hard for any citizen of a small country not to feel sympathy.”

“The conflict in Ossetia is not a local brawl in some obscure corner of Europe,” said Waclaw Radzinowicz in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza (via WorldMeets.US). Like the Balkans, it’s one of many “time-delayed mines” left over from the breakup of the Soviet Union that the West and Russia have both tinkered with for “morally dubious” ends. Even if this conflict is quickly resolved, what about the next mine?

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