the guns of August 2008 have in a matter of a few days significantly changed the world we live in. It is now clear to almost everyone that Russian objectives go well beyond the issue of the ethnically Russian citizens of South Ossetia. Moscow’s swift military gambit clearly includes “regime change” for the entire nation of Georgia.
That is important not simply because Georgia’s democratically elected president, Mikhail Saakashvili, is far more pro-western than his eventual Russian-picked successor will be, but also because it sends a clear message throughout the region that Russia can do what it pleases—and that the United States is too weak, too overstretched, too unpopular, and too weary from years of failed international exploits to act.
That is a message that will be heard first in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the Ukraine. Leaders such as Azeri Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev will go to considerable lengths to avoid the fate that apparently awaits Saakashvili. They will see the value of alliance with the United States in greatly diminished terms. All will urgently seek ways to accommodate Russian interests.
But the message will extend beyond those countries. Iran and Turkey will be forced to recognize that Russia is reemerging as a force in their region, and that their economic and security interests in the future will have to be more closely harmonized with those of Russia. Former Soviet Republics such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will be far wearier of entanglements with the United States that might provoke Russian displeasure.