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Russia, U.S. enter new chill zone

Georgians receive aid distributed in Gori, northwest of the capital, Tbilisi, on Friday. Russian troops allowed some humanitarian supplies into Gori but continued their blockade of the strategically located city.

Associated Press

Georgians receive aid distributed in Gori, northwest of the capital, Tbilisi, on Friday. Russian troops allowed some humanitarian supplies into Gori but continued their blockade of the strategically located city.

"The Cold War is over," President Bush declared Friday, but a new era of enmity between the United States and Russia has emerged nevertheless. It may not be as tense as the nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union, for now, but it could become as strained and as enduring.

Georgia's president grudgingly signed a truce with Russia on Friday, even as he denounced the Russians as invading barbarians and accused the West of all but encouraging them to overrun his country. A stone-faced Condoleezza Rice, standing alongside, said Russian troops must withdraw immediately from their neighbor.

Russia's offensive deep into Georgia has shattered, perhaps irrevocably, the strategy of three successive presidential administrations to coax Russia into alliance with the West and integration into democratic institutions.

From Russia's point of view, those efforts were never truly sincere or respectful of its own legitimate political and security interests. Those interests, it is now clear, are at odds with those of Europe and the United States.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's press office had no information Friday night on whether he had signed the cease-fire agreement. Russia's foreign minister assured Rice later that his country would implement the deal "faithfully," a U.S. official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press because Rice's conversation was private, said Russia was likely to sign the deal today.

As the secretary of state spoke in Tbilisi, Russian forces remained camped out just 25 miles away.

As much as Bush has argued that the old characterizations of the Cold War are no longer germane, he drew a new line Friday between countries free and not free and bluntly put Russia on the other side of it.

Tensions are manifest already, and both sides have done their part to inflame them. The flare-up over an obscure territorial dispute in the Caucasus, barely known to most Americans, has set off tectonic shifts.

The U.N. Security Council has reverted to Cold War-like stalemate, with American and Russian vetoes blocking meaningful action over Georgia and other issues. While the United States and Russia will continue to negotiate out of necessity, as the old superpowers did, cooperation and collaboration — however limited in the past few years — now appear even more remote over such issues as Iran's nuclear program.

The Russian offensive — the first outside its territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 — has crystallized a realignment already taking place in Central and Eastern Europe, where the new members of NATO and the European Union have warned of the resurgent Russian threat.

The United States and Poland, which spent months negotiating the basing of U.S. antimissile interceptors on its territory, quickly completed the deal after Russia's offensive. The administration dropped its opposition to sending Patriot missiles, which would defend the Polish site in case of any attack — presumably from Russia. A senior Russian general promptly gave credence to Poland's worst fears by saying Friday that the country had just made itself a target of Russia's nuclear arsenal.

The cease-fire document sets out no specific penalties or deadlines. It contains concessions to Russia that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili found hard to swallow. Russia could retain peacekeeping forces in the separatist region of South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, and the forces would have a broader mandate in South Ossetia.

Even if Russia fully complies with the cease-fire, the Bush administration says there will be more consequences. Bush's advisers are settling on penalties that would be intentionally modest and subtle, such as continuing to exclude Russia's foreign minister from discussions in elite gatherings of the world's leading economies.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Russia, U.S. enter new chill zone 08/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 11:42am]
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