Will Putin call America’s bluff?

STR/AFP/Getty Images Responding to unsolicited French advice about his treatment of Catholics, Josef Stalin once infamously remarked, “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?” The same question could be asked of Condoleezza Rice, who today demanded “the immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russian armed forces and the return of those forces to Russia.” Appearing ...

593203_080815_putin5.jpg
593203_080815_putin5.jpg

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Responding to unsolicited French advice about his treatment of Catholics, Josef Stalin once infamously remarked, "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?"

The same question could be asked of Condoleezza Rice, who today demanded "the immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russian armed forces and the return of those forces to Russia." Appearing with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, the U.S. Secretary of State said firmly: "This must take place and take place now."

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Responding to unsolicited French advice about his treatment of Catholics, Josef Stalin once infamously remarked, “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”

The same question could be asked of Condoleezza Rice, who today demanded “the immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russian armed forces and the return of those forces to Russia.” Appearing with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, the U.S. Secretary of State said firmly: “This must take place and take place now.”

We’ll see how Russia responds, since frankly the United States has no ability to force the issue. Nor does Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin want to be seen as taking orders from America. The punishments being muttered about in Washington right now — kicking Russia out of the G-8, deep-sixing its WTO bid, boycotting or trying to kill the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, canceling bilateral meetings — are pretty underwhelming, I’d imagine, from Russia’s point of view.

Still, the Russians ought to be very careful here. If the overarching goal is to intimidate former Soviet satellites from seeking closer ties with the West, they risk doing the opposite: sending such states running pell-mell into America’s arms (see: Poland). By overplaying his hand, Putin could turn a victory in Georgia into a major strategic defeat. He ought to find a face-saving way to take Rice’s advice.

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