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When war came, there was little Western leaders could do to stop it. Though U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on vacation through the conflict, aides say she placed about 90 phone calls to allies and to Russian and Georgian officials in an attempt to end the fighting. Bush met Putin in Beijing, but it wasn't for another four days that Russia called an end to its drive south. "Not only has the West been unable to prevent [Russia attacking Georgia], but it's not clear what the West can do to stop or even influence it," says Maria Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Many Georgians were shocked that the U.S. did not do more, since Georgia is ostensibly a key Washington ally. The main airport road in Tbilisi is named George W. Bush Street, and until last week when they were flown home on U.S. military transporters, 2,000 Georgian soldiers comprised the third-biggest coalition force in Iraq. Bush has met Saakashvili often and has hailed him as an icon of democracy. "Saakashvili got too close to the U.S. and the U.S. got too close to Saakashvili," says Kupchan. That lulled Georgia into believing that U.S. troops would rush to its aid. Now, there is a furious sense of betrayal. Gogi Edisherashvili, who fled his home in South Ossetia and sheltered with other refugees in Tbilisi, says: "The blood of our children is the responsibility of Bush and Saakashvili."
What Can the West Do Now?
The most urgent need is humanitarian relief. Thousands of refugees on both sides require shelter and food. "We have not had light or water for days," says Angelina Gasiyeva, a doctor from Tskhinvali, clutching her 15-month-old daughter in a monastery on the Russian side of the border. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that about 1,500 refugees are crammed into 10 makeshift relief centers around Tbilisi. On Aug. 12, it flew in 15 tons of medicines to Georgia. Nonetheless, says David Gazashvili, CARE International's emergency deputy director, "The situation is dire."
U.S. and European officials must also scramble to come up with a workable peace deal. Under the cease-fire agreement hammered out on Aug. 12 all forces must withdraw to prewar positions and humanitarian aid will be guaranteed safe passage. But Russia is in no mood to give up its military advantage. Its troops pushed deeper into Georgia even after the cease-fire was signed. Moreover, says Tom de Waal, Caucasus editor for the London-based news service the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, "There is a huge problem in that there does not seem to be a mediator whom Russia perceives as impartial. Moscow sees both Washington and the E.U. as being on Georgia's side."
It doesn't help that the West remains divided over how to tackle Moscow's increasing assertiveness. "There's been no coordinated policy between the U.S. and Europe in dealing with Russia," says Council on Foreign Relations expert Kupchan. If he wins the U.S. presidency, Republican candidate John McCain has said he will push to eject Russia from the G-8, the club of the world's leading industrial nations, effectively returning Moscow to the outsider status it had in the Soviet era. That would sting, says Andrew Wilson, research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations: "They care very, very much about the G-8. It's a huge prestige matter for Russia."
After initially taking a cautious approach to the crisis, President Bush declared "solidarity with the Georgian people" and hinted at stronger punishment for Moscow, which conceivably might include exclusion from the G-8. He also dispatched Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi and ordered the U.S. military to begin air and sea delivery of humanitarian supplies, raising the prospect that American troops might get entangled in the conflict. Any such escalation would cause international concern, not least for countries such as Germany and France, since Russia provides Europe with more than a third of the Continent's energy supplies.
Can Russia and Georgia Get on?
Even after the cease-fire, the two countries acted and sounded as if they were at war. Tens of thousands swarmed Tbilisi's central square for hours to hear Saakashvili rail from the podium in the biggest demonstration since the 2003 Rose Revolution, which swept him to power on a wave of anti-Russian nationalism. "This is a war between David and Goliath, and Georgia will win!" he shouted. "Let us be killed, let us be invaded! Georgia will never kneel."
Russia seems no more disposed to make peace. Having humiliated Georgia militarily, Moscow is now likely to push harder for independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A few days ago, a Moscow newspaper reported that nationalist groups were compiling lists of Georgians living illegally in the country, to hand to authorities for deportation. Others called for bans on Georgian imports, while hundreds of demonstrators converged on the U.S. and Georgian embassies in Moscow chanting against what they saw as Georgia's U.S.-backed war.
Medvedev has warned that Russia will readily use force again to repel threats. If so, there will be no shortage of willing fighters. Scores of Russians traveled hundreds of miles to sign up for the fight last week. At a military recruiting center in the North Ossetian city of Vladikavkaz, men were eager to be deployed. "I want to go kill Georgians," said Ramzan Kuchiev, a 27-year-old Russian army veteran. In Moscow, Nikita Khoritonov, a 19-year-old economics student, favored a more ambitious war, declaring: "I don't understand why we don't just take Georgia over."
As last week's fighting drew toward a close, Tbilisi's Gudushauri hospital filled with about 400 wounded soldiers. Hospital director Zaza Sinauridze, a gynecologist pressed into performing trauma surgeries, was overwhelmed. "How could we imagine this thing in the 21st century?" he asked. The bear has come out of hibernation. Its neighbors may have cause for some uneasy sleeps.
With reporting by Massimo Calabresi / Washington, Yasha Levine / Moscow, Andrew Purvis / Tbilisi, John Wendle / Vladikavkaz and Yuri Zarakhovich / Jacksonville, Fla.