The UN Security Council is set to discuss the issue in a closed-door session Wednesday, but any long-term settlement of the complicated background dispute may have to await the outcome of a foreign-policy debate currently raging in Moscow over how to deal with Western-leaning neighbors like Georgia and Ukraine, who seem more determined than ever to join the Western military alliance, NATO.
Earlier this month Russia scored a minor victory when NATO leaders postponed the two countries' applications to enter the military alliance's membership program, but there was little celebration in Moscow. Russia, which sees the advance of NATO to its borders as a strategic nightmare, is scrambling for policy prescriptions aimed at preventing it.
"Some people are saying we've been too flexible and given up too much, and the result is that Georgia and Ukraine are becoming more anti-Russian than ever. These people say we need to take a tough approach," says Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice rector of the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, which trains Russian diplomats. "A different argument says that if we want these countries to be our friends, we should respect their sovereignty and foreign-policy choices.... [Then,] even if they do join NATO, if our relations with them are warm and friendly, it won't matter so much."
Both approaches are on display in Moscow's treatment of Georgia, a country of 5 million on Russia's southern flank. Last week the Kremlin moved to upgrade its relations with two Georgian separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have been de facto Russian protectorates since they broke away in the early '90s.