In the coming weeks, the West will be shaping a long-term response to what many see as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to change the post-cold-war world.
Russia thirsts to once again be a great power – a lesson the West is learning in Georgia. On Monday, Russia's parliament voted unanimously to recognize the independence of Georgian rebel regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia – the flashpoints of recent fighting. Also, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired a warning shot about another frozen ethnic conflict in Moldova.
In the next few weeks, the West will be closely reading Russia's actions and intentions in the Caucasus, including energy-rich Azerbaijan – and will start to shape a long-term response to what many see as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to change the post-cold-war world, and potentially dominate former Soviet states.
But Moscow should be careful what it asks for. It just might find real downsides to its pursuit of greatness, including deeper isolation from the very world Russia feels has ignored it since the Soviet empire collapsed, say Western diplomats and foreign policy specialists.
The moment is quite sensitive on both sides – threatening the cooperation with Moscow that the West has come to rely on, but potentially thwarting the global integration of Russia, isolating it, and forcing it to go alone in its search for great power status. If Moscow continues to operate in Georgia, control Georgia's oil future, seek to topple President Mikheil Saakashvili's government, and officially recognize South Ossetia and the more prized Abkhazia republic, then debates in Western capitals are likely to shift to a planning phase, say diplomats.
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