Although analysts may debate how far Putin decides to go in Georgia, its actions are indistinguishable from a campaign that intends to go “all the way”. It’s forces are thrusting deep into Georgian territory and are now menacing the Georgian capital. Clearly, Russia’s ceasefire has turned out to be ‘just another scrap of paper’ and heavily discounts any future or past assurances. Putin’s statements have shown themselves to have a low and possibly negative truth value, and he may have lied about events in Georgia from the beginning. That means that nothing Putin says matters. Only what the West actually does will have any significance.
Russia is in the middle of a Great Game: a multi-front competition with China, India, Iran and the West for resources and influence in Central Asia. It’s long term position is poor. It’s demography is falling and apart from the energy sector — itself a spoil of Russia’s Great Game — its economy is less dynamic than China’s or the West. Russia is therefore engaged in a two-front “war” for resources and the control of communications links that it cannot afford to wage and which it has no good long-term prospects of winning. In this competition, the prizes are rail links, roads and pipelines. That is what Putin wants in Georgia. The Left, always on the lookout for a “war for oil” can’t see Georgia for what it is: Putin’s attempt to control the pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Turkey and thence to the European gas grid.
The US decision to send a military airlift into Tsibilsi and dispatch a naval convoy bringing humanitarian supplies sends a signal eerily reminiscent of the 1948 Berlin Airlift. The use of military and naval assets simultaneously lays the framework for future action with the same vehicles. Like Putin’s cooing threats, the humanitarian effort is intentionally ambiguous. Vladimir Putin has told America to “choose” between Russia and Georgia. He was really asking the United States to choose between conflict and appeasement. By sending a mini-Berlin airlift into Georgia, Bush is giving no answer, only repeating the question: Mr. Putin, choose — choose what comes next.