The recent escalation in the long-simmering feud between Russia and Georgia should be read as a sign of Putin's confidence in his country's ability to compete once again on the world stage with the US and the Europeans. So far, the West has been powerless to protect its Caucasian client. The EU has had to issue declarations urging Tbilisi to tone down its anti-Russian rhetoric. The Americans have hardly intervened at all. Russia's muscle-flexing on its eastern border should be read in conjunction with its challenges of American hegemony in the Middle East.
Together with the Chinese, the Russians have remained steadfast in their efforts to obstruct meaningful measures at the UN against Iran's nuclear ambitions - defying European, American, and Israeli concerns about the Islamic Republic. In the Levant, the Russians seem to be backing Syria and Hizbullah, though with some caution. Ze'ev Schiff exposed the Russian support for Hizbullah during the war, in a recent Ha'aretz article, and Israeli officials have been fuming for some time about the advanced Russian anti-tank weaponry employed by the militants against IDF armor.
The question is, however, whether Europe or, rather, France and Germany, will swing back toward Russia and against the US, as they did before the Iraq war, or whether Russia will remain isolated from Europe. For the time being, France seems rather content with the role it has managed to secure itself in Lebanon, with American support. A Sarkozy victory will only bring the country closer to the US. In Germany, it was former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who steered Berlin and the EU toward Putin. He remains a close friend of the Russian president today. Current Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, is much more wary of Putin. She has been especially critical of human rights abuses in Russia, and since gaining power, Merkel has tried to undo Schroeder's handywork. Nevertheless, it appears that the German Foreign Ministry, still dominated by SPD hacks, is exerting pressure on the government to improve ties with Russia - the primary motivation being Europe's dependence on Russian energy production and transportation (see NYT).