A column of Russian tanks on the march to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia [EPA]

Tbilisi has desperately sought international support since Russian forces moved into Georgia after the Georgian army launched an offensive to bring separatist South Ossetia, which broke away in the early 1990s, back under government control.

Mark Seddon, Al Jazeera's diplomatic correspondent, says Georgia's actions had clearly been anticipated by Moscow and that the Russian response may be an ominous portent of its future foreign policy.

There should be an iron rule for all journalists, commentators and politicians when discussing the crisis in Georgia, especially when in the United States, where I am now.

It is this, make it absolutely clear that you know which Georgia you are talking about.

The looks of horror that have crossed peoples faces here when I have told them that Russia 'has invaded Georgia' is something to behold.

Seddon's Diplomatic diary

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Part 2: Sarkozy reaches for the stars

Part 3: Beijing: Nothing left to chance

This is not to trivialise the conflict that has erupted, but simply to remind ourselves of what was once said about Czechoslovakia as the Nazis prepared to invade the country after Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, had given his blessing. 

Namely, that it was 'a faraway country of which we know little'.

Brutally, the same may be said about Georgia and, more so, of the two breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

For Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, the former US president, and now a foreign policy adviser to presidential hopeful Barak Obama, has apparently compared Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler.

Now Russia is, of course, in breach of international law, and having invaded a sovereign state, albeit one with sizeable pro-Russian enclaves, it is bound to expect a furious response from the West.

But Brzezinski, as a product of the Cold War, is unwise to make such sweeping claims, not least because Georgia is not Czechoslovakia and Russia is not the old Soviet Union.

Nato encirclement 

Whether or not Western leaders like it, the increasingly autocratic political leadership in Moscow is reacting to what it sees as a gradual encirclement by Nato.

The military alliance is moving steadily eastwards, and a new generation of long- range missiles are being prepared for deployment in what were Warsaw Pact member states.

Russia feels increasingly encircled by Nato's eastward expansion [AP]
Moscow is not of course going to send the tanks into Prague or Budapest again.

But recent history in the Caucasus suggests that on the inner fringes of the old Soviet bloc, where there are substantial Russian minorities, Moscow is not going to surrender them, and may use them to weaken what it sees as pro-Western governments.

To which should be added something else; in those disputed areas with Russian minorities, those who stand in the way may be forced to leave.

The untold story of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia is how those breakaway provinces have been emptied of their pro-Georgian populations, and how Russia has distributed passports for those who remain.

Olympic blunder

In retrospect, the move by Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian leader, to reign in South Ossetia when he thought that the rest of the world would be distracted by the opening of the Olympics in Beijing, was one of the least smart moves he could have made - particularly as it had clearly been anticipated by Moscow.

A sensible policy of co-existence may not have assuaged nationalists in both Georgia and Russia, but it has to be a better way ahead than the vicious conflict that has now probably led to the informal, but permanent annexation of Georgian territory by Russia.

This is not to excuse, but to try and understand.

It may also be timely for Georgia, which, like Ukraine, wants membership of Nato.

Had Georgia actually been a member, Nato members could have been called upon to come to the country's aid.

Worrying foretaste

A nightmare scenario of a Nato conflict with Russia over breakaway provinces in Georgia should at the very least make Nato planners think very carefully about further expansion.

Russia is saying 'so far and no further' [EPA]
It may be one thing to occasionally poke the Russian bear when it is weak, quite another to get into its cage when it is beginning to feel stronger and more confident.

Historians may look back at this period, and describe something that we may like to call the 'Kosovo Doctrine'.

Moscow was opposed to the independence of Kosovo, despite the fact that most Kosovans wanted it, for Moscow was determined to stand by its old Slav ally Serbia, and wanted to send a warning to others in the former Soviet Union.
 
The new Russia is not the plural democracy that many of its founders had hoped for.

If Boris Yeltsin clumsily allowed the Perestroika and reform of Mikhail Gorbachev to disintegrate on his watch, as Gorbachev had himself allowed the Soviet Union to disintegrate without a proper plan for dealing with the fallout from that process, the new bosses in the Kremlin, appear to be saying 'so far and no further'.

This is not a pleasant sight, and Russia's raw and ugly power displayed by its iron-fist policy in Georgia, may be a foretaste of much to come.

Source: Al Jazeera