The status quo ante.
7 days on from the beginning of the conflict, the picture has changed dramatically. Partly thanks to the undoubtedly superior Georgian propaganda and the response from Western democracies, most notably America, and partly due to the chaos, revenge attacks and collective punishment being wrought on Georgian territory, most of the goodwill which was generated has evaporated. More dangerously, the overwhelming message emanating from the media, including from the liberal press, if not from the majority of commenters yet, is that this marks a return to the old Cold War mentality. It goes without saying that Russian actions, arrogance and intransigence have encouraged this. There is no reason whatsoever for the Russian military to still be occupying any Georgian territory outside South Ossetia, and while some will be sympathetic to the apparent destruction of Georgian military hardware, ostensibly to prevent any repeat of last week's surprise attack but also doubtless to set back its development by years, neither is justified and also both are in breach of the ceasefire agreement now signed by both sides. Also chilling are the Russian remarks today threatening Poland over their decision to agree to host American missile silos, making clear in the cruellest language that such actions make it a potential target for a nuclear attack. While the missile shield is undoubtedly targeted at Russia rather than Iran, nothing whatsoever can justify such frightening allusions to devastation we thought had ebbed away.
The response from American politicians and commentators however has been little short of nauseating. For both George Bush and John McCain to stand up and say with straight faces that in the 21st century nations don't invade other nations is close enough in relation to Henry Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize for some to declare modern day satire to be dead. Both surely mean that in the 21st century nations don't invade democracies, but neither seems to have the subtlety to dilute their remarks that far. Even those who initially supported the Iraq war have admitted that it has been a foreign policy disaster without parallel since Suez - and yet we and our "allies" seem to imagine we have both the right and the record to lecture Russia on a conflict which has so far probably claimed the lives of a hundredth of those who have been killed as a result of our actions in Iraq. To today see Condoleezza Rice standing on the same platform as Saakashvili, both pretending that Russia is the aggressor, with Saakashvili once again bringing out the most pitiful hyperbole that apparently only a Harvard education can imbue an individual with (correction: the Guardian's corrections and clarifications column points out that Saakashvili's LLM is from Columbia law school), Rice delivering deadpan that "this is no longer 1968", an ahistorical remark which makes a mockery of her personal specialism whilst an academic on the Soviet Union, is little more than a joke, albeit one which is lapped up by a media which seems unquestioning of the idea that the Russian menace is firmly back.
For those looking for the democracy to support, or sympathise with, neither Russia nor Georgia adequately fits the bill. While it is inaccurate to refer to Russia as a dictatorship, as some have over the last few days, there is no doubt that after the liberalisation under Yeltsin the country has been turned by Putin into a autocratic state where very little dissent is tolerated. The media is almost entirely state controlled, the elections are rigged, although it also seems quite possible that even if they weren't, Medvedev or United Russia, Putin's party, would still be in power, and as we know only too well, the state itself appears to be involved in sanctioned assassinations of those who know too much or who refuse to remain quiet. Equally disingenuous though is the presentation of Georgia as a happily functioning Western-style democracy. The suspending of Imedi TV's licence (interestingly owned at one point by News Corporation), the brutal suppression of opposition demonstrations, and the report of fraud during last November's elections give the lie to the model democracy statements. If you wanted to get into a battle over whom smells the least, it would be Georgia, but that is surely counter-acted by the initials actions of the country in provoking the Russian military response.
If the Western world was slow to respond, surprised and distracted by the initial confusion and the Olympics, then that has quickly been forgotten. The most fair-handed have been without doubt both the French and the Germans; Nicolas Sarkozy, desperate to impress perhaps because of his domestic unpopularity and the French presidency of the EU quickly engaging in the diplomacy which brought about the agreement that has now been signed by both sides. Angela Merkel, with her comments that some of the Russian response has been disproportionate is also difficult to disagree with. Then again, that too is doubtless influenced by the German dependence on Russian oil and gas. The boorishness of the comments from the Americans about "bullying and intimidation", neither of which they have ever engaged in, and especially not during the futile search for a second UN resolution on Iraq, is again something to behold.
As for the long-term consequences, these too appear to have changed as the week has gone by. Georgia has probably lost South Ossetia and Abkhazia for good, however much it protests. Their loss will certainly not however alter Georgia's ability to function, and one has to wonder whether they could have stayed Georgian in the long term, war or no war. Additionally, at one point it looked as though the Russian victory had been so crushing that Saakashvili could be in immediate trouble. That has now dissipated, perhaps with the continuing Russian occupation further uniting the Georgian people around a leader they might otherwise have dismissed at the first opportunity for his recklessness. If this was meant to be Russia flexing its muscles and emerging from its weakness post the collapse of the Soviet Union, that too now looks doubtful. Instead the encirclement not just continues, but at an apparently renewed pace. I fear also that Paul Krugman is wrong in his belief that this marks the end of Pax Americana - while America was never going to rush its military forces to the defence of Georgia, especially when she acted so suicidally, the idea that this means an end to of the monopoly of military force on their behalf is naive. What we have instead witnessed is that no one else can dare to act like either America or Israel has and expect to get away with it as they have. While the attack on Iran that once looked ominously close has faded into the distance somewhat, it can be guaranteed that if it does come that those same people who have so exculpated Russia this week will be in the forefront in defending, justifying and apologising for it.
In short, nothing has changed. It's maybe that, rather than Russia itself that we should be most concerned about.