The military offensive Russia conducted in north Georgia is now described as that country's most significant military operation since the implosion of the Soviet Union. Some countries even consider this conflict as the first in a new Cold War between East and West. And all because the commitment President Bill Clinton made to Moscow was not honored by his successor.
When Clinton was resident at the White House and Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin, the former assured the latter that NATO's expansion would be limited to the former European satellites of the Soviet Union. Once Bush took over the controls, that promise was to shatter into bits, under the notable impulsion of Condoleezza Rice, then head of the National Security Council. This former academic specialist in the Czarist kingdom had composed a document in which she asserted that strategic enemy No. 1 in the short as well as the long term was not China, but, in fact, Russia.
In 2004, seven countries became NATO members. There were no longer any buffer states between some of them and Russia. In short, Russia was now within range of rifles and no longer just missiles. In the same breath as that enlargement, three other nations officially took the road toward membership by adhering to the Military Action Plan, an obligatory step toward full integration. Obviously, that was more than enough to wake up Russian nationalism, reputedly as touchy as it is easy to hone.
Simultaneous to this "colonization" of Russian neighbors by the Atlantic alliance, the "color" revolutions - orange for Ukraine and rose for Georgia - allowed pro-Western politicians to take power. What more? The American Army rented military bases in Central Asia once built for the Soviet Army. What more still? President Bush signed a protocol with his Czech and Polish homologues that provided for the establishment of a nuclear shield.
The straw that broke the camel's back, or more precisely the pretext that convinced Putin to use strong-arm tactics, was Kosovo. By straightaway recognizing Kosovo's independence last February, the United States and the European Union crossed a line that Moscow had begged them not to. During the first meeting between EU and Russian foreign affairs ministers organized after the Kosovo episode, Putin indicated that all regions tempted to secede and enjoy rapprochement with Moscow would be recognized, aided and armed. No sooner said than done, the Kremlin commanded aid be brought to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Last April, during the NATO summit, Bush, Sarkozy and their colleagues decided to postpone the adhesion of Georgia and Ukraine indefinitely. But - here we go - at the request of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, NATO agreed to reexamine these two nations' cases this coming December. Since then, Putin and his successor, Dmitri Medvedev, have remained incensed.
Observing to the letter the Napoleonic principle that every country is doomed to make policy of its geography, they injected a serious dose of aggression into the political gestures they tested with respect to Ukraine. Specifically, they reverted to the energy weapon, an embargo on agricultural exports to Georgia, etc. They went so far as to tear a page from Hitler's book: he bestowed German passports on persons of German descent in Sudètes. Moscow "Russified" the Abkhaz and the Ossetians. They're all citizens of the Russian Federation. After which, all that remained was to irritate, to provoke the Georgian dwarf. And what happened happened.
A strange, even paradoxical, thing is that Washington pushed the envelope even though it can't do without Russia on the subject Bush and his circle consider the most critical, the most delicate, of the hour - that is the Iranian nuclear question. Without Moscow's complicity, Washington will never succeed in stifling Tehran's ambition. It goes without saying that had Bush been less stuffed with ideology, if he had stuck to the lessons of Realpolitik rather than adopting the marks of posturing, the world would not be facing its umpteenth conflict. One last remark: Russia deployed its offensive in full awareness that the American is within a few months of his departure; he is a lame duck. In short, Moscow even harnesses Washington's political agenda.