During the early 1990s, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Russiaâ€™s sphere of influence contracted until the waters of Europe were washing soggily up on Russiaâ€™s beaches. Capitalist or Communist, Russians have always been exceptionally jingoistic.
As more and more of the ex-Soviet Unionâ€™s satellites fled into the arms of the west, happy to get away from the tyranny and oppression, the Russians upped their violence.
In 1994, Russia invaded Chechnya. Over the next 15 years, Russia obliterated the country and imposed a succession of puppet leaders following staged elections. The war became a sordid misery of rape, looting, and bribery. Russian parents attempted to keep their children away from the draft by bribing officials. The destruction wasnâ€™t only in Chechnya, but resulted in bouts of terrorism (like the killing of 334 hostages â€“ including 186 children â€“ by Chechen rebels at a Beslan school in 2004).
Along the way, Russia strong-armed their position in the UN Security Council to defenestrate the ability of the UN to negotiate in break-way provinces around the world.
The most obvious one is Russiaâ€™s continued rejection of independence for Kosovo, one of the ex-Yugoslav states, and a victim of the civil war that erupted in the region after the collapse of communism in the 1990s.
However, the inability of break-away regions to seek independence through the UN has affected regions as diverse as Aceh (part of Indonesia) and Cabinda (an exclave of Angola). It also affects South Ossetia, a break-away province of Georgia.
Russiaâ€™s Perfect War
Russia wants a war. Russia needs a war.
Fascist leaders, who have declared their infallibility, always need a handy external scapegoat when internal policies result in high inflation, capital flight and increasing poverty. Hugo Chavez and the mullahs of Iran have the US, Robert Mugabe has the UK.
Russia needs an enemy.
In April 2007 Estonia, another ex- slave-state of the Soviet empire, decided to distance itself from their past. The Bronze Soldier situated in the centre of the capital of Estonia, and commemorating the Soviet invasion of Estonia at the battle of Tallinn, was moved to a graveyard.
The result was what is potentially the world’s first cyberwar.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s increasingly dictatorial leader, went on the offensive: “Those who are trying to belittle this invaluable experience, those who desecrate monuments to the heroes of the war, are insulting their own people and sowing discord and new distrust between states and people.”
Violent clashes at the Estonian embassy in Russia were followed by a systematic and aggressive attempt to bring down the entire Estonian Internet infrastructure; disabling the websites of government ministries, political parties, newspapers, banks, and companies.
But the Estonians are part of the EU. Russia cannot launch a real battle against them and expect to get away with it.
Georgia is perfect.
An unstable ex-Soviet nation, filled with internal conflicts and corruption. A weak and divided nation with few friends in the West.
A return to the Cold War?
Western Europe is in a bind. High oil and gas prices tie them to Russia. Putin has been more than happy to turn off the gas when he needs to make a point, and Europe sources a significant amount of gas from them.
Russia has been spoiling to return to the spot of global player they lost in the 1990s. They have complained about a targeted missile-shield base to be stationed in Poland. They have supported dictators in as many countries as they can find. Oil money gives them the cash they need to afford influence. And the US moral stature has been severely compromised by the ongoing humiliations in Iraq.
Russia feels that now is the time.
But it is different from the Cold War. Russia is not offering a different and attractive ideology, as Communism was to the huddled vassals of the Colonies. All Russia offers now is thuggery and bullying.
The support is attractive to dictators, but not to their people. The more Russia stomps about, the more rising countries like Poland, India and Brazil feel the need for a stronger alliance with progressive democracies.
Small countries, in particular, have every reason to believe that their right to independence has more support in the West than in the cold hands of Russia.
At moments like this, most world leaders reach for their phones to find out what the US is going to do. And this is the perfect opportunity for the US to do nothing.
George W Bush is a stranded president at the tail-end of an unpopular term in office. Congress wonâ€™t support him and an election is on the way. With the world economy tightening, there is little space for a united European and US intervention either.
In other words, all the fledgling titans are going to have to figure this one out themselves.
Russia canâ€™t really afford a full-scale war with Georgia. Even though Russia â€“ unlike the US â€“ wonâ€™t bother attempting to rebuild any nation they bomb to bits, it still costs money to hold a country in submission. Georgia is quite large.
More than likely, after bombing each otherâ€™s infrastructure for a bit, and butchering each otherâ€™s civilians, the aggressors will go home. In the worst-case scenario, it drags in every other break-away region hoping to fall back into Russia’s embrace.
Unfortunately, it will show once again â€“ as if we needed further proof â€“ that the UN is a useless talk-shop, hopelessly outdated in dealing with the factional conflicts of today.
The moral high-ground
Perhaps this is an opportunity to create perspective. People have become so over-exposed to the horror of Iraq that most have forgotten what a real war looks like.
South Ossetia is a real war. No attempt will be made by either side to minimise civilian casualties. Neither side will attempt to offer material support to the refugees. Neither side will attempt to clean up the mess afterwards. Both sides will torture. Both sides will rape.
And those who refuse to hold these belligerents to the same standards that the US has been held to are shit-heads. The hypocrisy and emptiness of their ideals will be demonstrated. Not a hatred of injustice or abuse, but the self-loathing of the spoilt child.
There is no moral high-ground in war. There is no justification for slaughter.
In this war, as in every other war, everyone loses.