A brutal cold-war editorial in the New York Times condemns the barbarism that is neo-Soviet Russia (note the scathing characterization of Vladimir Putin as “the dark hand behind the Kremlin’s aggression” and of Russia itself as “a poorly developed, corrupt and fragile state” ):
This is where things stand nearly three weeks after Russia invaded Georgia and radically upended ties with the West: Russian troops still occupy key areas, including the port of Poti; Moscow has recognized the independence of Georgia’s two breakaway regions; Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, is still talking tough even though his army is routed and his country shattered.
Awash in oil wealth and giddy after crushing tiny Georgia, Russia’s leaders are striking back at real and imagined humiliations. The West’s failure to fully marshal its leverage is painful to watch. But Russia also has a lot to lose. Moscow’s decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia will only harden battle lines and sow further regional instability.
Recognizing these enclaves could inspire a host of rebellions around and inside Russia: Transdniester from Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan and the oil-rich province of Tatarstan from Russia. If Moscow has forgotten its horrifying war to suppress the Chechens, we have not.
We know some in the Kremlin don’t care if ties with the West are broken. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the dark hand behind Russia’s aggression, blustered this week that Russia would be better off if it didn’t join the World Trade Organization.
While many Russians are cheering him now, we doubt that they will be eager to return to the grim days of Soviet isolation. For all its oil wealth, Russia is still a poorly developed, corrupt and fragile state. It is not in its long-term economic and security interest to divorce from the international mainstream. When the Europeans meet next week, they should agree to put on hold a trade and security deal with Moscow so long as it continues to occupy Georgia and threaten its neighbors.