By now, a great deal has been written about Russia’s invasion of Georgia and the resulting conflict raging in the Caucasus. Most of it, however, misses the crucial context: that the current war is a bellwether for the future physical borders of the Russian Federation, and for the political independence of the countries to Europe’s east.
In his excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago, Melik Kaylan points out that, “Having overestimated the power of the Soviet Union in its last years, we have consistently underestimated the ambitions of Russia since.” His assessment echoes that of AFPC President Herman Pirchner, who writes in the Washington Times today that “the smaller the cost of Moscow’s victory in South Ossetia, the stronger the Russian nationalists – who back current Russian policy in Georgia – will become.”
The real stakes for the United States in the current conflict, then, have precious little to do with South Ossetia, or even Georgia for that matter. Rather, they involve Western democracies demonstrating to Russia, clearly and uneqivocally, that the political gains made by the “post-Soviet space” since the collapse of the Soviet Union are not reversible. Sadly, so far neither we nor our allies seem to be doing anything of the sort.