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Russia resurgent?: Moscow's campaign to 'coerce Georgia to peace'

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Russia's military incursion into Georgia in August 2008 and formal recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia raise fundamental questions about Russian regional policy, strategic objectives and attitudes to the use of armed force. The spectacle of maneouvre warfare on the periphery of Europe could form a watershed in post-Cold War Russian relations with its neighbourhood and the wider international community. The speed and scale with which Russia's initial ‘defensive’ intervention to ‘coerce Georgia to peace’ led to a broad occupation of many Georgian regions focuses attention on the motivations behind Russian military preparations for war and the political gains Moscow expected from such a broad offensive. Russia has failed to advance a convincing legal case for its operations and its ‘peace operations’ discourse has been essentially rhetorical. Some Russian goals may be inferred: the creation of military protectorates in South Ossetia and Abkhazia; inducing Georgian compliance, especially to block its path towards NATO; and creating a climate of uncertainty over energy routes in the South Caucasus. Moscow's warning that it will defend its ‘citizens’ (nationals) at all costs broadens the scope of concerns to Russia's other neighbour states, especially Ukraine. Yet an overreaction to alarmist scenarios of a new era of coercive diplomacy may only encourage Russian insistence that its status, that of an aspirant global power, be respected. This will continue to be fuelled by internal political and psychological considerations in Russia. Careful attention will need to be given to the role Russia attributes to military power in pursuing its revisionist stance in the international system.

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