Are you paying attention, Dr. Singh?

Last Thursday, just a day before the magical start to the Beijing Olympics, the populace in South Ossetia in Georgia woke up to a different kind of pyrotechnic display. A barrage of rockets fired at the behest of President Saakashvili of Georgia.  Presumably, the separatists operating out of the region had much upset the Georgian president.  He was also much perturbed by the role played by Russia and probably wished to set the record straight once and for all, through the barrel of gun.

But, what he didn’t expect or anticipate was the swift and deadly reaction from Moscow. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned the Georgian adventure and rallied to the support of separatists from South Ossetia. According to the Russians, the separatists are struggling for freedom, and deserve to choose their destiny. In reality though, the Russians are upset at Saakashvili’s western leanings and were raising the tempo of separation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to stop Georgia from joining the NATO.

The ball was set rolling, and almost immediately Russian tanks and artillery marched into the region backed by Sukhoi cover.  Putin termed it is a “humanitarian intervention”.  There was much debate and discussion in magazines like Time and BBC on how the situation would pan, after all Saakashvili might not have the numbers in terms of its armed forces, but he had invested heavily into modernization. But all that discussion was futile, because within a day or two, the Russian juggernaut had the Georgian forces on the knees. Not only were the Georgian forces pushed back from their positions in South Ossetia, but other places also came under attack. In fact there was a strong feeling that Russia would not stop till it would reach the capital Tbilisi.

Through all this, the stance taken by the world powers was rather interesting. While President George Bush came down heavily on Russia, asking it to stop “the invasion” and warning it of dire consequences. The old European powers like Germany and France, while condemning Russia, also seemed to chide Saakashvili for the corner he had pushed himself into. The rest of the world was ensconced in silence.

For the past many years, especially since the collapse of USSR; such invasions or rather “humanitarian interventions” have been the sole preserve of US and its allies, be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Ethiopia, or wherever. The US has taken upon itself the job of world policing. Thus to have F16 flying over a state that has somehow antagonised the Americans and dropping cluster bombs, no longer comes as a surprise. As President Bush had famously remarked post 9/11, “you are either with us, or against us”.

It was a unilateral world that we lived in, till last Thursday. It all changed with this conflict. The message sent by Russia was simple and straight; love us or hate us, you can’t ignore us. For the past few years, thanks to it’s huge oil and gas fields, Russia has been gaining prominence and in the process starting to flex its new-found muscles. So be it putting its flag on the North Pole seabed or starting the fighter jets sorties over the Atlantic, reminiscent of the Cold War days.

So while the US has in some ways diminished in its strength thanks to its precarious position in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia has been gaining strength.  And the Georgian crisis was litmus test, a indication of how thing will pan in the days to come.

Georgian President Saakashvili is a pro-western politician, who not only studied in the US but also admires it. He has been quite a trusted ally of Bush, sending a large contingent to Iraq and letting the oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to pass through its land. Between Russia and US, it was obvious whom Saakashvili had chosen. And from the way the whole event has turned, it is also obvious, as to who let him down.

Not only did Saakashvili underestimate Russia’s resolve, he also seemed to overestimate the US backup. He surely had bet for more than just harsh criticism, which was all that he got from the western world. Thus, while Condoleezza Rice and Bush did not mince any word in their criticism of Russia, they did precious little.

In fact, the tables have completely turned on Saakashvili. Georgia has as good as lost not only South Ossetia but also Abkhazia, where the rebels have started pushing out the government forces. Also, its hope of joining the NATO is now more or less a foregone conclusion. And not to mention the loss of face. The big question is: Did he really think that the Americans would shield and protect him from the mighty and wily Russians?

Now isn’t there a lesson in foreign politics for everyone here, including our economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singhji. One of the biggest argument for India signing the nuclear deal has been that we need to be on the good side of the Americans. According to people, in the current scenario, we cannot, not afford to have US as our ally. With US on our side, no one would dare rile us, fearing the cruise missiles that will rain from the heavens.

But this myth has been shattered in Georgia; while the US was making all the right noises, it was only making noises. So what is the guarantee that if we bind ourselves to the US, that we will be safer and no one will dare attack. If good friend Bush could let Saakashvili out in the wind, what the guarantee it won’t do so with India.

Imagine for a moment, that a mighty and resurgent China attacks us yet again, on the pretext of annexing Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims to be of its own. Though we might have the nuclear deterrent and the rest; we are yet no match for the Chinese might. In such a scenario, what would our friend, the Americans do?

Dr. Singh, to be honest, I am no expert in foreign policy. But there is one thing I am very sure of, never bind yourself with any power, no matter how powerful it might seem. Thus, with India joining the “I love US” club, might not be the best option available.

The Georgian crisis might not take us back to the good ol’ Cold war era, but it surely reminds us that we do not live in a unipolar world. Non aligned is a much maligned word, but in these circumstances, it just might be what the doctors would prescribe. Are you looking, Dr. Singh?