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Does Russia now see its victory in Georgia as a defeat?

What effect has the Georgia-Russia war had on Russia and the Kremlin's foreign policy? The conventional wisdom was that the fact that Russia could act without impunity against a strong ally of the west would embolden it to act even more aggressively in the future. But The Independent's Mary Dejevsky has the opposite take, and she makes a compelling argument:

Since Medvedev became president two years ago ... Russia has suffered two major shocks which may turn out to have been transformative, in the way the Chernobyl nuclear disaster or the Armenian earthquake accelerated change in the Soviet Union.

The first, only a couple of months after Medvedev was sworn in, was the Georgia war in August 2008. The common view is that Russia won. "Winning", however, brought home to the Kremlin some uncomfortable truths. Russia had no friends worth speaking of around the world. Its image as a bully, nostalgic for empire, was only reinforced, and its military capability was exposed as outdated and chaotic.

One consequence has been a wholesale re-think of foreign and defence policy - assisted by President Obama's move to "press the re-set button" with Russia. Moscow has started to show a friendlier face to the world. Its officials talk about cooperation and team work; the term "soft power" has entered Russia's diplomatic vocabulary. Speaking, at our meeting in Sochi, about the Georgia conflict, Putin eschewed the sneering and scolding he habitually uses and suggested that the breakaway enclaves and Georgia would have to reach their own settlement (ie without Russia) and accepted that Georgia was the "dominant power" in the area.

Russia is looking for a new start, not just with the US, but with the EU and - as a leaked Foreign Ministry paper earlier this year indicated - orientating its policy more decisively towards the West. Invitations to wartime allies to take part in this year's Red Square parade for Victory Day were another sign...

This was written before yesterday's announcement that Russia was formally calling off its sale of S-300 air defense systems to Iran, as well as before the friendly meeting of the U.S. and Russian defense secretaries in Washington, which could also be data points in this argument.

Anyway, the entire article is well worth reading; it's knowledgeable, realistic and hopeful, three things you don't usually get together in Russia analysis.

Does Russia now see its victory in Georgia as a defeat?

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