For years Russia's leaders have argued: push the line of confrontation eastwards and we'll push back. Last week, they did
It is hard to determine who has behaved worse. The Georgians for tearing up a peace agreement and flattening the centre of an Ossetian town, or the Russians for visiting, and revisiting, similar horrors on the Georgian inhabitants of Gali in Abkhazia and Gori, in the north.
In spite of what Georgia says, the most likely outcome of strike and counterstrike will be a return to the borders of both breakaway states, with some changes of the boundary lines. Georgia will have lost its claim over these disputed territories for good and a heavy Russian military presence will seal this territorial settlement for the foreseeable future.
But the consequences of a short war in the Caucasus do not stop there. Successive Russian leaders, men lauded as reformers and democrats, as well as today's generation of autocrats, have warned the west about the dangers of Nato's eastward expansion. Whether it was Gorbachev with Thatcher, Yeltsin with Clinton or Putin with Bush, the message was essentially the same: push the line of confrontation eastwards and eventually Russia will push back. This is now what has happened. A sleepy and eminently vulnerable town nestling in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains has been made an object lesson of the limits of western political and military expansion.