Russia didn't invade Georgia to protect the lives of South Ossetians to whom it gave Russian passports. It did so for several reasons: the first is Georgia's request to join NATO, the second is Bush's plan to install missiles in Poland, and the third is to show that the West cannot count on oil pipelines that bypass it.
The story goes back a long way, but twenty-five years is enough for now. Before Mikhail Gorbatchev presided over the dismantling of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe, he floated the idea of the Soviet Union being part of a "European House" - one of the few bad political ideas in the world that didn't fly. As I pointed out in my book in French, "Une autre Europe, un autre Monde", besides the fact that the Soviet Union stretched all the way to the Pacific, the Russian part alone would have weighed too heavily in the balance. Now, however, as this week's Economist explains, Russia is floating a much more credible idea: that of a Eurasian security organization. A conference in Moscow next year would include all the NATO and EU countries (not all members of the EU belong to NATO), plus China and probably India.
Historically, Russia has feared encirclement. In the late eighties my book showed the Europeans that the Soviet Union was merely one of several giants whose power was relativized by the existence of the others. Now, in what Fareed Zakaria aptly calls "The Post American World", Russia's geographic position could allow it to be the prime mover in that vast Eurasian community.
Russia's call for a security conference is a broad, long-term response to extra-Eurasian (i.e., American) encroachments. The invasion of Georgia is a short-term demonstration that Russia will not tolerate having a member of NATO on its southern flank and missiles on its eastern border - however much these latter are meant to intimidate Iran.
P.S. Should the Bush administration fail to get the point, Vladimir Putin has talked of putting bombers carrying nuclear warheads in Cuba, taking us back not twenty-five years, but almost fifty.
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