"The world changed after August 8 this year."
That, at least, is Russia's view -- a view articulated again in the Kremlin during the weekend by President Dmitry Medvedev. And a view, say analysts, that today no nation on earth is in a position to dismiss out of hand.
But a month after the outbreak of conflict in ex-Soviet Georgia, as the world struggles to come to grips with a shifting international landscape, the question no one can yet answer is: Exactly how has the world changed?
Russia is demanding a new "multipolar" world structure, the United States is vowing to fight anywhere for "democracy," Europe seems somewhere in the middle as it gropes for its own "unity," Asia quietly watches as events unfold.
On a smaller scale, NATO power Turkey has suddenly decided the time is ripe to talk with Caucasus neighbour Armenia after a century of enmity, while a few ex-Soviet republics seem to be cautiously humming to Moscow's tune again.
Against this background of deep and shifting currents, the United Nations has practically gone off the air, seemingly unable to formulate a coherent thought beyond expression of "concern" over a burgeoning international crisis.
Amid the general confusion, however, one thing -- the identities of the real protagonists in what is shaping up as an epic struggle -- have become crystal clear: It is Russia versus the United States.
That came into sharper focus last week as the United States continued to dispatch warships on what it said were humanitarian aid missions for Georgia, prompting open charges from Moscow that it was quickly rearming its ally.
"Neither Russia nor the Europeans nor the Americans have a strategy now for moving forward," said Sergei Mikheyev, deputy head of the Center for Political Technology, a privately-funded think tank that is politically close to the state.
"Russia gave up a lot with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Kremlin considers it has every right to assert influence in the 'post-Soviet space'.
"However the Americans now also regard this space a legitimate 'zone of US influence'" and will bring considerable US means, economic and otherwise, to bear in reinforcing it, Mikheyev said.
Washington's determination to put its own economic and political lock on at least part of the strategic Caucasus and Central Asian regions was on clear display last week in the person of US Vice President Dick Cheney.
Visiting oil-rich Azerbaijan, Cheney, whose personal fortunes are closely tied to the US oil industry, evoked Washington's "deep and abiding" interest in these ex-Soviet states, notably in developing new energy supply routes.
Routes, it was clear, over which Russia would have no control.
Predictably, Kremlin anger over what it sees as a none-too-subtle US drive to take control of the regions sitting on Russia's western and southern borders is now on the rise.
At the same time, Moscow's annoyance with a European Union seen increasingly here as Washington's strategic proxy despite being a valued trading bloc is also approaching a level not seen in years, analysts say.
In a commentary posted on the liberal gazeta.ru website, Semyon Novoprudsky, deputy editor of the centrist daily Vremya Novostei, said events today had the same disturbing feeling as those preceding both world wars of the 20th century.
US insistence in placing new missile defences near Russia's borders, pushing for further expansion of NATO and sending warships to deliver aid to Georgia was only "militarising" Russian consciousness and boosting Russian hawks.
"In this generalised pushing and shoving toward war, the European Union looks something like a dog that 'understands everything but cannot speak'," Novoprudsky wrote.
"Among the nearly 30 countries of the EU there is no unified, unanimous position on any of the key issues of international security and they are unable to present anything resembling a 'balanced position'," he added.
It was Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who most succinctly described Russian frustration with Europe, saying recently that if EU policy continued to toe the US line then Moscow "may as well talk with Washington about European affairs."
This is the atmosphere -- angry, suspicious and unbending -- that will greet French President Nicolas Sarkozy when he and two top EU officials come to Moscow on Monday to discuss the crisis with Medvedev before heading to Georgia.
Indeed, as Sarkozy prepared for the trip Russian officials bluntly alleged that crucial wording in the ceasefire agreement brokered by France -- a document whose interpretation is hotly disputed -- had been altered in the hours after Moscow signed it and before Georgia signed.
"In the 15 years since the Soviet collapse, Europe has merely followed the United States," Mikheyev said.
"This greatly irritates the Kremlin -- it harms relations between Russia and western Europe," he added. "The anti-Russian mood is pushed by the Americans who will sit on their island and let the Europeans man the front lines."
Though the Kremlin insists that its strategic aim in the present conflict is clear and limited -- to end what it says is a US monopoly on global decision-making -- some say Russia has already overplayed its hand.
"The Russian leadership is trying to spin and justify after the fact its hysterical and historic break-up with the West and its institutions," Andrei Kolesnikov, deputy editor of the weekly magazine The New Times, wrote recently.
Russia, he said, was living under the illusion that it can recreate something of its lost Soviet and Tsarist-era empires though in reality it has neither the economic, political nor even military means to do so.
That kind of scepticism however is in the minority today in Russia, where Western diplomats say they hear almost no voices against Moscow's current actions even among liberal, pro-Western elites who usually oppose the Kremlin.
Alexander Dugin, a hardline theorist described by the US daily Los Angeles Times as a "father figure for contemporary Russian nationalism," was in no doubt that, a month after the Georgia conflict erupted, the world had changed.
"It is very far from the end," he told the paper last week. "It is only the beginning of a real, and maybe very serious, and very dangerous for all of the sides, confrontation between us and the Americans."
Source: The Economic Times, Moscow, 07Sep08]
The Question of South Ossetia
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