Harvey Sicherman: A Clarifying Act of Violence: Russia, Georgia, and The West
[Harvey Sicherman, Ph.D., is president of FPRI and a former aide to three U.S. secretaries of state.]
In the early 1970s, Walter Laqueur described the then existing detente between the United States and the Soviet Union as “the Cold War by other means—and sometimes by the same means.” Russia’s attack on Georgia, although superficially an outburst of ill temper over a minor issue, reflects the increasingly muscular foreign policy of the Putin era. Put plainly, the Russian Prime Minister and his circle do not regard the post-Cold War settlement in Europe as legitimate. They mean to contain and then roll back Western influence, preferably through diplomatic and economic pressure and, failing that, if possible, by the threat or use of military force. Putin’s demand for greater respect of Russian interests has become the Cold War by other means—and sometimes by the same means. The United States and its European allies are now forewarned. Will they be forearmed?
The Post-Cold War Settlement and NATO Expansion
At the beginning of 1989, the Soviet Union’s writ ran into the middle of Germany and, through the Warsaw Pact, incorporated most of the historic capitals of Central and Eastern Europe. Its Central Asian holdings took it to the borders of Turkey and Iran; further east, Moscow’s realm bordered China and Alaska. But three years later much of this, including the Soviet Union itself, was gone. In Europe, Russian power receded to the eastern reaches of the Ukraine. The anemic Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), consisting largely of the Central Asian republics whose neo-Stalinist dictators still looked to Moscow for survival, replaced the Warsaw Pact. And it had all happened without a shot being fired by Russia’s Cold War enemies.
This history is important because it was neither expected nor intended, not by the Russians or by the Western powers. The “Two Plus Four” process (1990) that allowed the peaceful reunification of Germany did not—and could not—broach the subject of what might happen to the Warsaw Pact or the rest of the Soviet Union. Indeed, Bush the father’s Administration, while managing the peaceful conclusion to the Cold War, was transfixed by the potential of a democratic Russia and anxious not to humiliate Moscow as it lost its empire. Washington was therefore happy enough to take the new Germany into NATO while supporting Mikhail Gorbachev’s internal reforms without further deconstruction of the Soviet state. After Boris Yeltsin upended Gorbachev and engineered the end of the Soviet Union, nonetheless Bush still did not want the lead. The multilateral International Monetary Fund, rather than Washington, was expected to manage Russia’s economic transition from communism to capitalism.
This was prudent had it all worked according to plan after 1992. But it did not. The critical events that set the scene for today’s frictions were set in motion in 1993-94 when the fate of both the Russian experiment and the nearly free countries of Central and Eastern Europe came into question. In summer 1993, Yeltsin got into a smash-up with the communist-dominated Duma, fired on the parliament building, and called for new elections that December. But the communists emerged as the largest party and lots of soldiers had voted for them. Vice President Al Gore and a large party of American officials had gone to Moscow to celebrate the impending success of democracy. They returned shaken.
This immediately called into question the U.S. decision in October 1993 not to accept new members into NATO but rather to establish a Partnership for Peace (PfP), which Yeltsin believed would be a substitute for alliance expansion. Following the Russian elections, Clinton himself toured Central and Eastern Europe in early 1994. The leaders of the so-called Visegrad Group—Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic—pressed him hard with the logic of history. For the 120 million people unfortunate enough to live between Germany and Russia, only one organization had successfully kept both problems at bay, namely, NATO. Clinton was convinced. If Russia was taking a turn for the worse, then NATO, in lieu of any other solution, had to stake its defensive line further to the east before it was too late.
How far east? Over the next decade, it turned out to cover not only the Visegrad Group but also the Baltic states that hosted large Russian populations, and in Lithuania, even a major Russian naval base. NATO would set up a liaison organization with Russia in 2002, intended to assuage the pain. But it did not help.
There was a further offense in the Balkans. Yugoslavia, a shared client of the Soviets and the Americans during the Cold War, fell victim to its competing nationalisms shortly thereafter. The Russians took the Serbian side in the horrific war that followed. But the Serbs lost and Yeltsin seemed unable to influence the United States and its European allies as they belatedly tackled the Bosnia and Kosovo crises. In a sudden operation that might have turned tragic, the Russians seized Pristina Airport and its hangars of advanced jets ahead of NATO in the final act of the 1999 Kosovo War, the first ever waged by the Western Alliance. Moscow then stood strongly against any change in the province’s status on the grounds of national sovereignty.
When Yeltsin resigned on the eve of the millennium, he left a country weakened, impoverished and demoralized. Many Russians believed that the West had sold them a bad bill of goods: chaos disguised as democracy and an even crueler corruption called capitalism. As for NATO and the Americans, they had no business after the Soviet threat evaporated. Why was the alliance expanding into Russia’s sphere of influence? The myth sprang up that German unification had been predicated on NATO’s not moving east.
These views found fresh expression under Russia’s new leader, the previously unknown Vladimir Putin. Putin had been a KGB agent at the frontiers of Soviet Europe, the neo-Stalinist East German regime. Possessed of a law degree, he served subsequently as a close assistant to the late Mayor Anatoly Sobchak of St. Petersburg, a leading democrat of the Gorbachev and early Yeltsin period. By Putin’s own account, his administrative talents took him from municipal to national affairs. After heading the reorganized security services (the FSB), he became a key assistant to Yeltsin himself.
The new president was only forty-eight, yet his experience had already encompassed both failed reform eras. Putin grasped that the old Soviet state was no longer workable; modern methods were needed. But the ideology of state power remained; the task was to rebuild it. Hence, the new slogan “sovereign democracy”: Russia must chart its own special course, a “democracy” best suited for its people. Here was an idea—Russia’s unique destiny—quite compatible with the well-known tradition of tsardom’s “Third Rome” and a revived Russian Orthodox Church.
Putin became the anti-Yeltsin. He did not drink. He had a hard body, a tough mind and a tart tongue. His New Year’s addresses to the Russian people berated them in unprecedented language: too many Russians were drunk; there were too few children; the army could hardly put 50,000 men in the field; the economy might soon drop to the level of a minor state; public assets had been plundered. Surrounding himself with “Siloviki” loyalists drawn from the young ranks of the old KGB, Putin set about retaking the elements of state power. No Stalin he, but no democrat either.
The new leader quickly became popular because he seemed to restore order even if by rough methods. Still, it was the oil bonanza that revived Russia’s confidence. Dependence on raw material exports, normally an undesirable fate, turned into great fortune when the global economy boomed on all fronts, notably unexpected demand from China. Putin’s enterprise rose with it.
And enterprise it was. Yeltsin-era oligarchs had to yield to “Kremlin Inc” as Putin regained control of resources that made Russia a “super-petro-state.” Those who resisted lost their assets, sometimes their liberty and, most ominously, their lives. This included the mysterious deaths of several critical journalists and most notoriously the assassination of former KGB man Alexander Litvinenko in London.
By all accounts, Putin accelerated infringements on Russian democracy after two serious mishaps in what Moscow’s strategists called the “near abroad.” One was in Georgia, a small state blessed with coasts on the Black and Caspian Seas, where a “Rose Revolution” in November 2003 brought the flamboyant and openly anti-Russian Mikheil Saakashvili to power. More significant was the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” in December 2004 when a reliable pro-Moscow candidate lost to Viktor Yushchenko—a westward looking nationalist nearly poisoned to death in the course of a campaign of contested votes and mass demonstrations. Moscow had lost control of its “nearest” near abroad, the historic gateway to the Russian heartland.
Henceforth Putin would further curtail both potential opposition candidates, their access to the media, and independent monitoring of the vote. And Putin’s increasing prickliness towards the Western powers reflected a popular Russian nationalism. His real competitors were not the divided and discredited democrats but the “reds” (neo-communists) and the “browns” (anti-foreign nationalists).
Central Asia and the War on Terrorism
Putin also faced a large challenge in Central Asia. Stalin (and earlier the Tsars) had “divided and ruled,” equipping each of the states there with troublesome minorities dependent on Moscow. The Soviet demise upset the ethnic hierarchies but left the borders unchanged. Various well-armed but needy dictators were struggling to survive, their situation complicated further by Islamist revolutionaries anxious to set the region aflame from their redoubt in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. Russia’s botched war in Chechnya was also a bleeding wound on Moscow’s forces.
Then came 9/11, when Putin was among the earliest to console Bush. The two had already made a friendship of sorts. At their first meeting in June, Bush said, “I looked the man in the eye….I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Now Putin would do more than offer consolation.
Overruling advisors, the Russian leader facilitated the American assault on Afghanistan, allowing the United States to establish military bases in nearby countries responsive to Moscow’s influence. This was a calculated gamble that the United States would weaken the Islamists, Russia would gain a free hand in subduing the Chechen terrorists and Bush would owe Putin.
Washington’s appearance in force heartened all the Central Asian regimes. They were eager to rent themselves; the cash flow increased with the number of bidders. American and other western energy companies, already busy in the 1990s trying to develop Caspian oil, were reinforced by a new U.S. diplomatic and military presence.
Putin, however, was prepared to go only so far. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, founded in 2001 by Russia, China and other Central Asian states, gradually became an anti-American forum, demanding by 2005 that the United States withdraw from the military bases of all members. By that time, Uzbekistan had already expelled the Americans when its dictator’s violent handling of his opposition angered Washington. A year later, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was allowed to address the meeting. The United States had clearly overstayed Russia’s welcome in Central Asia.
The limits of Moscow’s relationship with Washington were even more visible when it came to Iraq and Iran. Disappointing Bush, Putin could not resist aggravating the split in NATO, a traditional Soviet objective, and sided with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in opposing the war on Saddam. As for Iran, Russia had an important tie through its nuclear reactor at Bushehr. Putin used this relationship to become a kind of intermediary between the United States, the Europeans, and the ayatollahs in the controversy over Iran’s nuclear enrichment plan. The Russian leader even devised a solution that would put him in the catbird seat: enrichment might be conducted under Moscow’s control outside Iran thereby assuring both a supply of fuel for Tehran and relief for those who feared an Iranian bomb. Bush accepted the proposal but the Iranians refused, angering Putin and justifying his participation in more U.N. sanctions. Still, he would not agree to more draconian steps; he refused to suspend the Bushehr project entirely and he readily sold Iran advanced air defenses.
The Munich Manifesto
The most sensational of Putin’s foreign policy pronouncements were reserved for the Western front. Already in 2002, he declared in a New Year’s address that the end of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century. It was not until February 10, 2007, however, that he gave the fullest public expression to Russian resentments at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, a longstanding gathering of American and European officials and analysts.
Putin began by attacking the “international architecture” dominated, as he said, by one nation as inherently unjust. Then he turned to Europe, arguing that U.S. plans for missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic against an incipient Iranian threat were really part of a broader anti-Russian policy. “I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe,” Putin asserted. “On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation….against whom is this expansion intended?”
The Americans and the Europeans had already been aware of Putin’s complaints and even more exercised over a pattern of Russian behavior. It was not only less freedom in Russia itself but also Moscow’s use of energy supplies to hamper Ukraine’s new government; similar pressures on Belarus; an economic boycott of Georgia; and the cyber warfare against Estonia when that government dared to move a Soviet era war monument. On top of this was Putin’s aggressive dismantling of economic arrangements in the Yukos case.
Until the Munich outburst, the Western powers sought to assuage the Russians primarily through inclusion of Moscow in the “clubs”: the Group of Seven industrial democracies plus Russia (hosted by Moscow in July 2006); the NATO-Russia Council (2002); and support for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization. The Europeans also invited Russia to join an E.U. energy pact designed to increase transparency and to preserve independent supplies and pipelines, a response to Moscow’s demands for participation in downstream operations.
Putin’s wholesale assault on the post-Cold War settlement in Europe was therefore all the more disturbing. Newly appointed American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former CIA director and Russian specialist, refused to rise to the rhetorical bait, allowing only the sly remark that “old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.” After a few more volleys, Secretary of State Rice, herself a Russia expert, arranged a verbal cease-fire in May. Then on July 2, 2007, Bush treated Putin to the family compound at Kennebunkport where, after a fishing expedition, both leaders suggested amends had been made. They spoke expansively about raising U.S.-Russian relations to a new strategic partnership. Meanwhile, the Georgian and Ukraine applications to join NATO on a “fast track” were subject to increased scrutiny.
Back to the Future
Whatever the United States meant by “Strategic Partnership,” however, it did not encompass the Balkans. Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 after a failed multilateral negotiation where Russia took Serbia’s side once more. In a double blow, the United States and major Western powers recognized the new state while the Serbs elected a pro-Western government despite the loss of their historic province.
Putin immediately threatened retaliation, not in Europe but in the Caucasus. Reversals in the Balkans would be revenged at the expense of the Rose Revolution.
The Georgians and Russians had scores to settle dating back to tsarist times and this colorful and often cruel history entered their political genes. After the Soviet Union fell, Georgia had been wracked by a vicious war when the ethnic autonomy of Georgia’s Ossetian and Abkhazi minorities was abolished. Moscow protected the separatists. Eventually, the Russian troops were relabeled peacekeepers and passports extended to the residents, a near de facto annexation.
This ring was held for some years by Georgia’s President, Gorbachev’s former foreign minister, Edward Shevardnadze, often blamed by his critics as the co-author of Moscow’s humiliation. Shevardnadze was cautious, his successor, Mikheil Saakashvili, much less so. Personal animosity between Putin and the new leader further poisoned the brew.
Saakashvili’s strategy was to “invest” the United States in Georgia’s independence. Georgian troops therefore took up posts in Iraq alongside Americans; Americans trained the Georgian army in small war tactics. The new president by all accounts made a fair if not unblemished start on a democratic transition. Secretary of State Rice and eventually President Bush (May 2005) himself came to Tbilisi to hail Georgia’s progress.
The Georgians took another step. They hosted a new pipeline that could take potentially a million barrels a day of Caspian Sea oil to Turkey, the only line not running through Russia. By 2008, Saakashvili could tell himself that the United States had crucial moral and strategic interests in his country’s independence. But was he also telling himself that he could snatch South Ossetia from Russian control?
The Bush Administration warned the Georgian leader not to provoke Putin, a warning reinforced by the Russian anger over Kosovo. These warnings were made more pointed because of rising incidents along the Ossetian territories and Russian military rehearsals clearly intended for Georgia.
In the event, Saakashvili would claim that he acted on August 7, 2008, because Russian tanks had begun to move into South Ossetia. Putin asserted, however, that Russia intervened after the Georgians began “genocide” against the Ossetians. A heavy Russian armor and air offensive soon forced the Georgians to retreat in defense of Tbilisi. Moscow’s forces then seized critical towns and ports throughout the country, wrecking infrastructure and seizing valuable military equipment, some of it American.
A Clarifying Act of Ciolence
Russia’s effective dismemberment of Georgia ends a phase of American and Western involvement in the Caucasus that, in Moscow’s view, threatened its sphere of influence. Medvedev and Putin have declared that only Russia can secure the peace and prosperity of the region. That part of the message is unmistakable.
But is there more? Astonishingly, only four months ago, on April 6, 2008, Bush and Putin had offered their boldest rhetorical exercise yet to codify a U.S.-Russian “partnership.” Called a “Strategic Framework Declaration,” it was unveiled by both leaders in Sochi, a Black Sea resort not far from Georgia; it covered cooperation on nonproliferation, missile limitations, energy, Iran and North Korea, global terrorism, climate change and economics. Moreover, a month earlier, France and Germany had rejected quick inclusion of Georgia and the Ukraine in NATO on the grounds that they needed to resolve their problems with Russia. These overtures now seemed to belong to another world. Georgia fit the pattern of Putin’s Munich manifesto, not the hopeful notes of Sochi.
Moscow’s clarifying act of violence suggests much more conflict to come. After all, 25 million Russians live abroad, many in Ukraine and the Baltics. Not all are happy with their current rulers. Will the Orange Revolution be the next target? Or Vilnius?
There are also strategic issues. The Russian naval lease in the Ukraine’s Crimea will be up soon as the treaty with Moscow on borders expires this December. Kaliningrad, another naval base on the Baltic, is accessible by land only through Lithuania. And in Poland, the Georgia crisis brought negotiations over the U.S. missile defense to a quick conclusion on a distinctly anti-Russian note. By hosting important military installations, Prague and Warsaw have now increased NATO’s stake in defending them against Russian pressure.
Looming still larger lies Moscow’s general complaint about the reach of NATO beyond the German border. Putin has already surfaced the idea of a new pan-European institution that would supersede such Cold War “relics” as the CSCE or even NATO itself. Russia’s motives are easy enough to discern: render the old Warsaw Pact states, if not formally neutral, then far more responsive to Moscow’s preferences.
The United States and its European allies are thus confronted by the unwelcome prospect of defending the post-Cold War settlement against a determined and even violent Russian effort to overturn it. The very foundations of Western relations with Russia over the last fifteen years—kinship with fellow democracies and similar geopolitical conceptions—now look like illusions. And all of this comes at a most awkward moment. Europe needs Russian oil and gas. European NATO can barely put 50,000 troops in the field; most of those and the American army are preoccupied in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. The United States needs Russian cooperation on several issues, not least Iran. But then why would Moscow act at Western convenience?
A new and urgent item has redefined the transatlantic agenda: where and how to draw the line against Putin’s Russia, saving democracy where it can be saved and deterring war through superior strength. Such a policy does not exclude cooperation with Moscow where interests overlap. But it does sound very much like containment by other means, and sometimes by the same means.
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Arnold Shcherban - 8/29/2008
<Russia’s attack on Georgia, although superficially an outburst of ill temper over a minor issue, reflects the increasingly muscular foreign policy of the Putin era.>
Note: The fact of Russian agression is taken as a premise for the logical
conclusions. But of course, the conclusions made on the basis of the false premise are likely lack any validity. Since, as every unbiased observer knows, it was Georgian troops
that treacherously attack South Ossetian capital Tskinvali in the middle of the night of Aug. 8th, targeting primarily civilian dwellings and installations, and also shooting at nearby Russian peacekeeping posts (killing twelve Russian soldiers), factually it was Georgian aggression against South Ossetians, not Russian aggression against Georgia. Russia just responded to the violence and immeasurably more proportionally so than the Western/US counterparts are used to do in much less dangerous circumstances and far away from their territories. It, e.g., did not bomb Georgian capital Tbilisi, which would have been quite natural and logical response to the abovementioned actions of Saakishvili's government and the essential one, provided Russia's actions were targeting regime
change, as it has been suggested
by the US officials (ironically the same ones which develop and openly support the Orwelian considerations for the undivide right of the USA to do same in any country the US economic and political elite sees fit.)
<At the beginning of 1989, the Soviet Union’s writ ran into the middle of Germany and, through the Warsaw Pact, incorporated most of the historic capitals of Central and Eastern Europe. Its Central Asian holdings took it to the borders of Turkey and Iran; further east, Moscow’s realm bordered China and Alaska.>
This statement makes poisonous and false presumption (see "incorporated") that
the territorries of Eastern European countries of Poland, Chechoslovakia, Hungary, and GDR were included within
the Soviet Union national territorial borders - outrageous lie. It's the exact equivalent of saying that Japan, South Korea, South Vietnam, Panama, Saudi Arabia, FRG, Serbia, Iraq, and numerous other countries around the world the US and NATO military forces are permanently in are essentially territories included into the USA and its NATO allies.
Every unbiased observer knows that Soviets maintained its military presence in Eastern Europe and the pro-Soviet regimes in those countries with one main consideration in mind: national security. And that consideration was not at all based on imaginary threat or imperial policies: Soviet Russia was not once, but twice over just two decades of its history utterly destroyed and about 30 millions of its
people perished as a result of the invasions through its Western borders, the catastrophes having no precendents (and neither antecedents) in modern history, which were organized, sponsored, and exa by the... West.
What country's political leadership
(communist or perfectly democratic)
would not become paranoid about its
borders security, in particular, and national security, in general, in view of such a history, and rather recent one, as well?
That was an exclusive and absolutely justifiable (in opinion of the overwhelming national majority of populus in any superdemocratic country) reason for Soviet Russia to maintain its control over the political regime and military presence
in those Western European countries:
Wrong policy from ideological and moral point of view and obvious violation of souvereign rights of the
countries controlled, but not as wrong
as if the policy was actually based on Russian imperial designs.
To be continued...
Arnold Shcherban - 8/29/2008
Current attack of anti-Russian hysteria in the West, and especially (as always) in the US was hardly unpredictable, regardless of the developments in Georgian-Russian relations.
The US as a single true world superpower and hegemon it has been even at the Soviet times never tolerated any more or less serious challenge (whether economic, diplomatic or military) to its Pan Americana designs. It still doesn't: it's enough to recall numerous discussions/warnings of the
threat of the increasing Chinese, so-called "soft power" (even diplomatic and trading efforts of China look threatening to the Western/US imperialism).
In case of Russia while the latter (after the utter economic and financial devastation caused by the best friend of the West corrupted drunkard Eltsin) was playing the role
of the Third World country practically
controled by organized crimes, criminal oligarchs and bribed by the them governmental employees, it became
almost a friend, at the least, a close Western "ally" moving in the "right" direction (apparently towards full-fledged democracy, or plutocracy, depending on one's interpretation.) Then Russian's majority decided to stop pumping out financial and human resources out to the West and Russian mafia'a accounts in the Western banks and get a bit to themselves. Comes Putin. He turns out to be a smart politician. Initially he
refuses to prosecute Eltsin and other
criminal oligarchs for essentually robbing the country and empoverishing
its core population. He also displays quite ambivalent internal and external policies: further committing Russian economics to the capitalist-like reforms at the same time strenghtening the financial discipline, tax collection, and governmental control over the economy, launching serious campaigns against organized crime and wide-spread corruption, becoming Western partner in the so-called war on terror (the real meaning of which he certainly knew even then), and supporting some reasonable Western/US
As Western civilised tradition goes, it lets a nation does whatever it wants, until that nation plays ball with the Western economic and geo-strategic interests, regardless of the nation's socio-ecomomic
and ideological structures (China and other countries with autocratic and anti-democratic regimes with whom the US maintaines good and often friendly relations are bright examples of the validity of the last statement.)
As soon as Russia has considerably stabilized its economy, social life, and military (the last was also terribly damaged by the treacherous policies of Putin's predecessors) and paid off its outstanding loans to the West it naturally became more independent from the Western foreign policy practices, throughout the world.
In particular, in clear view of the consequent wave of the US/UK imperial
coalition's agression in the Middle East, enlarging of NATO, despite of
the absence of any conceivable and proportional threat in the world (with the obvious to any half-brained purpose to encircle Russia), and open provocation and stimulation by the West (especially - by the US) of any anti-Russian sentiments and policies in the former Soviet republics even many formerly Westerly-inclined Russian politicians and political analysts concluded that Russia today cannot help establishing of its own independent foreign policies in order to protect its national security and, moreover, national identity.
It is then when Western politicians and analysts started to raise alarm
about Putin's (note: not Russian majority's) deviations from "democratic" policies.
Apparently, no nation, except the US and its close allies has a right for
national security considerations, followed by any political actions to srengthen it or, say, the right to prosecute its own citizens for criminal offenses... unless those actions and prosecutions approved by the Western moral and legal "leaders".
Recent tragic developments in Georgia
in regard to Abkhazia and South Ossetia are just one additional answer to the question: Who establishes fashion in the world's public opinion?
It is sufficient to imagine the response the neighboring, non-aligned with the US, country (democratic or not) would get if it launches military attack against people living on its territory autonomously, which also happen to be American citizens, struggling for their independence from that country, killing hundreds of them and completely destroying their capital would get from the US. There one would have massive bombings of the capital and other major cities of that neigboring to the US with real, not imagined change of regime and immediate prosecution of the governmental officials responsible for the enthic cleansing, i.e. genocide.
World had it even when no American citizens were involved and when the country in question was no neighbor of the US, but located thousands miles from it (besides under the other outlandish considerations and lies forwarded) in Kosovo, e.g.
But it exactly 'cause Serbia dared not to place itself into the kilwater of the American supercruiser.
It was terrorist KLA that became democratic organization, and Serbia terrorist state. It is not a bit surprising therefore
that Russia became aggressor and used its force "disproportionately" this time, not genocidal regime of pro-Western democrat Saakashvili.
It is not a bit relevant either that both South Ossetia and Abkhazia became known as part of Georgia, as a result of the Stalin's (ironically - Georgian himself) orders to make them such, the leader whose any internal policies and actions the West damn as devil's will,... until they don't pour water on the Western mill, once again displaying traditional double standards of the US international (and national) approach.
Russia clearly wants and fully justifiably so one major thing from the West in general and the US, in particular: stop unceremonious interference in our internal social, economic and legal affairs, encircling our country by the NATO unfriendly members and by the US so-called anti-missile shield, support for anti-Russian chovinistic policies of some of Russian neigbors, and develop real friendly, not confrontional dialogue showing some measure of respect to Russian national security considerations instead of ignoring them in your favor.
Russian bear can behave (and it did) much friendlier and peacefully than grizzlie, if treated with respect to its natural habitat and not being imposed the grizzlie's will on.