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    Central Asia
     Aug 13, 2008
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The end of the post-Cold War era
By M K Bhadrakumar

countries and the failure of the US-sponsored Nabucco gas pipeline project (which broadly has the same orientation as the South Stream) have come as setbacks to Washington.

In geopolitical terms a flashpoint in the Caucasus at this juncture suits Washington. A furious propaganda barrage against Russia has begun. It is already at a high pitch. US statements have virtually overlooked the Georgian onslaught on South Ossetia and the attack on Russian peacemakers. The focus is on the Russian response to the Georgian provocation. An attempt has begun to portray Russia as the aggressor. Washington is carefully


cultivating an opinion in Western capitals that Moscow is "bullying" Tbilisi.

This propaganda is bound to strengthen Washington's case for inducting Georgia into NATO. At NATO's summit meeting in April, it became apparent that despite its robust attempts for months, Washington needs to overcome resistance within NATO on Georgia's membership, especially from Germany, France and Italy. The European countries are wary of provoking Moscow and creating new East-West barriers, especially at a time when the imperatives of energy security are in everyone's mind.

A compromise formula was therefore worked out at the summit in Romania that the NATO foreign ministers at their meeting in December will revisit the topic of Georgia's membership claim. Rice made it clear in Romania that the US was not going to thrown in the towel and walk away, but would insist on the issue. Now, the December meeting will also be the last major NATO event of the Bush era. Georgia has been a pet project of the Bush administration, and its induction into NATO makes a fine legacy for the Bush era. The war in the Caucasus at this juncture comes in handy for the Bush administration to press Georgia's (and Ukraine's) induction into NATO.

Georgia's membership of NATO has far-reaching strategic implications. With the induction of Georgia, NATO crosses over from the Black Sea region to the approaches of Asia. It constitutes a great leap forward for the alliance, which wasn't even sure until recently - ostensibly, at least - of its post-Cold War destiny in the 21st century.

Georgia's NATO membership ensures that the arc of encirclement of Russia by the US is strengthened. NATO ties facilitate the deployment of the US missile defense system in Georgia. The US aims to have a chain of countries tied to "partnerships" with NATO brought into its missile defense system - stretching from its allies in the Baltic and Central Europe, Turkey, Georgia, Israel, India, and leading to the Asia-Pacific.

From Washington's perspective, there is nothing like getting Russia bogged down in the Caucasus if it saps Russia's capacity to play an effective role on the world stage. It is all too apparent that Moscow dreads a full-blown war erupting in the Caucasus and was desperately keen to avoid one.

Moscow is fundamentally averse to any confrontation with the West. Its foreign policy gives top priority to Russia's integration with Europe. But Washington's best hope is that with some degree of "bear-baiting", at some point Moscow will lose patience and hit out, even if that might affect Russia's image in Europe.

Indeed, if Moscow accedes to the long-standing demand by South Ossetia to become part of the Russian Federation, it becomes fodder for Western criticism that a "revanchist" Kremlin annexes territories. But if Moscow remains passive, the Caucasus could become Russia's "bleeding wound" and Moscow's prestige in the post-Soviet space diminishes.

In sum, it belies logic that Saakashvili acted impulsively. Georgians have a reputation for being hot-tempered, but he is also a trained lawyer - trained in the US. He can't be so naive about the facts of life and the certainty that he would get a bloody nose if he tried to take on the Russian army.

What are the facts? According to Jane's, Georgia has 26,900 military personnel against Russia's 641,000; 82 main battle tanks against 6,717; 139 armored personnel carriers against 6,388; and seven combat aircraft against 1,206. Still, the indications are that on Monday, Georgia resumed the bombardment of Tskhinvali and Russian positions in the region, killing three more Russian peacekeepers. Russia's military losses have now risen to 18 men killed, 14 missing and over 50 wounded.

US military aircraft on Sunday transported 800 Georgian troops serving in Iraq, along with "about 11 tons of cargo, back to Georgia". Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the US can ill-afford a Georgian "pullout" from Iraq. The 2,000-strong Georgian contingent was involved in the sensitive task of interdicting Shi'ite militiamen from smuggling arms across the Iranian border. As an American scholar put it, "A US airlift of 2,000 Georgian troops to fight Russian ones at this juncture does not look friendly to Moscow."

The point is, the Bush administration cannot afford to fail in this Caucasian venture. It will be seen as needlessly having blood on its hands unless US diplomacy successfully turns the tide in its favor and takes matters to their cold, logical conclusion - induction of Georgia into NATO.

Washington has barely four months to achieve this objective. But it is not a tall order. If the Bush administration succeeds, a page in history is written. We may conclusively say goodbye to the post-Cold War era. Russia's relations with Europe and the US can never be the same again. Blood has been drawn, after all. The Beijing Olympics, in comparison, pale in significance.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

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