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Russia's big Caucasus win

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It has issued a symbolic warning to Ukraine's westward leanings, asserted clout in oil and gas pipeline futures, denied Georgia the possibility of reclaiming breakaway provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and affirmed a deeply Russian set of hard-line political values regarding the disputed front lines of the old cold war.

Moreover, by agreeing to halt its military on Tuesday, working with French mediator Nicolas Sarkozy, and only "recommending" that Mr. Saakashvili step down, Moscow is arguing it has reasonably protected its interests and not overthrown a sovereign state.

Moscow also appears to be slam-dunking the cease-fire details. The truce, which Saakashvili blamed Russia for breaking Wednesday, contains a "nonuse of force" clause that forbids Georgia to take action inside South Ossetia, a terrific concession. Nor are international peacekeepers coming soon; Russia gained an "additional security role" that formalizes its peacekeeping role in South Ossetia despite US calls for a more independent force in the region.

Russia is pushing for international talks on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which could lead to eventual backing of referendums that would allow those republics to formally separate from Georgia.

Both US President George Bush and Saakashvili cited reports of Russian miltary actions "inconsistent" with the truce Wednesday. But inside Russia, the venture is boosting pride and morale – part of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's mission to cast off the humiliation of losing the cold war, and reestablish a perception of Russia as a great power.

"At the moment it appears that Russia will have gotten positive benefits from the use of force across its border," says a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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