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Page last updated at 14:10 GMT, Tuesday, 12 August 2008 15:10 UK

Russia buoyed by weakened Georgia

By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

Russian troops in Tskhinvali (12/08/2008)
Russia has dealt a heavy blow to Georgia's military

Russia had always made it clear that this conflict would end on its terms.

International opinion may have been a factor in its decision to end its operation. But Moscow was, in any case, convinced that the West had the wrong opinion of who was the victim, and who was the aggressor.

To the Kremlin, this was a mission launched to protect the lives of civilians, and Russian service personnel, from an aggressor.

Much of Russian public opinion seems to share that interpretation of events.

So why has Russia called a halt now?

At the start of the conflict, there were questions as to whether the Kremlin had a clear strategy.

As it went on though, it seems to have settled on two main objectives: one military, and one political.

"The logical conclusion is to destroy the military capacity of Georgia," Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said of the aims of Russia's campaign.

Now, presumably, Russia feels it has dealt a strong enough blow to the Georgian military. That objective has been achieved.

Deep mistrust

The unspoken political objective is the weakening, or perhaps removal, of Mikhail Saakashvili.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has denied that Russia had any intention to depose the Georgian president, while adding: "It would be better if he went."

Any formal negotiation is still a way off. And, given the clear level of mistrust between the Russian and Georgian governments, it is always possible that fighting may break out again.

But even before agreeing to take part in any talks, Russia has, in effect, imposed conditions: no negotiations with Mr Saakashvili, and no Georgian troops in South Ossetia.

Moscow feels it can dictate terms. It feels strong. It hopes it has left Mr Saakashvili, the man with whom the Kremlin had quarrelled so bitterly even before this conflict, feeling weaker.



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