I admire Putin in some ways, but he aint' warm ner fuzzy. Just smart.
The attack was short, sharp and deadly - enough to send the Georgians fleeing in humiliating panic, their rout captured by global television. The destruction was enough to hurt, but not so much that the world would be roused in fury. The timing of the ceasefire was precise: just hours before President Sarkozy could voice Western anger. Moscow made clear that it retained the initiative. And despite sporadic breaches - on both sides - Russia has blunted Georgian charges that this is a war of annihilation.
Moscow can also counter Georgian PR, the last weapon left to Tbilisi. Human rights? Look at what Georgia has done in South Ossetia (and also in Abkhazia). National sovereignty? Look at the detachment of Kosovo from Serbia. False pretexts? Look at Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada to “rescue” US medical students. Western outrage? Look at the confused cacophony.
There are lessons everywhere. To the former Soviet republics - remember your geography. To Nato - do you still want to incorporate Caucasian vendettas into your alliance? To Tbilisi - do you want to keep a President who brought this on you? To Washington - does Russia's voice still count for nothing? Like it or not, it counts for a lot.
But, as Steven Plocker points out (HT: David Hazony), he shouldn't be cocky. Militarily, Putin was shooting fish in a barrel, and the fact that he couldn't accomplish his ends by a quiet diplomatic dressing-down shows how far Russia has to go to regain something of her former influence, even in her "near abroad":
The Russian army entered those areas while facing little resistance, but this does not attest to its fighting abilities. This “war” did not see the utilization of complicated technological means, massive troops were not flown great distances, no headquarters were established, and there is no room for comparison between the “Georgia war” and the two American wars against Saddam Hussein.Neither Putin nor we should push too hard. Neither side should want the Sixth Fleet stalking the Russian Navy in the Black Sea.