The winners and losers

The mini war between Russia and Georgia seems to have ended. What were its main strategic outcomes?

Russia is without doubt the winner. It will reinforce its control over the secessionist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Its army has defeated the Georgian forces, a welcome result for Moscow after years of humiliation from Afghanistan to Chechnya. For sure, the Georgian army was not a powerful one, but the fact that it was being equipped by the United States would have increases Moscow's satisfaction.

Russia is back, and with strength, on the international stage. Gone are the days when it was unable to defend its interests in strategic matters, given that its economy was in tatters. It remained powerless to stop Nato enlargement, the Kosovo war, US attempts to reshape the Middle East and US military presence in Central Asia.

The acceptance of a strategic partnership between Russia and Nato in 2002 had been wrongly interpreted as an acceptance of US strategic supremacy and the renunciation by Russia of its specific national interests. Vladimir Putin has re-established Moscow's authority with strength and brutality, both on the national and the international stage. The increase in energy prices - partly due to the Iraq war - replenished state coffers. Russia is no longer a spectator on strategic issues but an important actor.

The big looser is Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. He made a tremendous mistake. He overestimated US support for his country and underestimated Russian resolve. Did he believe that Russia would let him take over South Ossetia (which seceded from Georgia in 1992)? That would have implied that Russia was neither a world power nor a regional one.

Did Saakashvili think that, in case of a Russian reaction, he would play the role of a victim, and hence benefit from US support?

If true, then he must have confused verbal solidarity with military backing. He is cheered in Washington, Bush is eager to help him in his political tug of war with Moscow, to equip his army and to try to ensure Georgia's admission to Nato.


But Bush is certainly not ready - and able - to open a new military front, besides the Afghan and Iraqi ones. If Saakashvili had tried to force Bush's hand by launching a military attack against Russia, he has committed the biggest mistake of his life. He will bear the responsibility for the continued, if not definitive, loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The fight between Georgia and Russia is the last nail in the coffin of the unipolar world thesis. Georgia's defeat is the defeat of a US ally, which the US was unable to protect. US reaction has been vocal but without any real consequences on the ground. The hyperpower was powerless in the face of a major strategic event.

Besides, Bush could not compensate for this strategic defeat with a moral or ideological victory. His call to respect Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity seems at least strange, bearing in mind the fact that he has invaded Iraq and supported Israel's war against Lebanon.

It is quite difficult to understand why Kosovo would have the right to secede but not South Ossetia or Abkhazia. And why Georgia would deserve territorial integrity but not Serbia.

But we are not witnessing the rebirth of the USSR or the start of another Cold War. We do not have two global alliances with allies all around the world, fighting in an ideological war that can finish only with the death of one of them. We are witnessing the rebirth of power politics, where each country tries to defend its national interest as hard as it can.

The West has certain national interests, which are different from Russia's. But it must accept that the Russians have national interests, too. If Westerners want to see their values prevail, they must be coherent.

It is high time that Westerners stop applying double standards, and reacting differently to similar actions.

[Source: By Pascal Boniface, Gulfnews, Dubai, Are, 22Aug08. Dr Pascal Boniface is the founder and director of IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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