If there were any doubt that the rules of the international game have changed for good, the events of the past few days should have dispelled it. On Monday, President Bush demanded that Russia's leaders reject their parliament's appeal to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Within 24 hours, Bush had his response: President Medvedev announced Russia's recognition of the two contested Georgian enclaves.
The Russian message was unmistakable: the outcome of the war triggered by Georgia's attack on South Ossetia on August 7 is non-negotiable - and nothing the titans of the US empire do or say is going to reverse it. After that, the British foreign secretary David Miliband's posturing yesterday in Kiev about building a "coalition against Russian aggression" merely looked foolish.
That this month's events in the Caucasus signal an international turning point is no longer in question. The comparisons with August 1914 are of course ridiculous, and even the speculation about a new cold war overdone. For all the manoeuvres in the Black Sea and nuclear-backed threats, the standoff between Russia and the US is not remotely comparable to the events that led up to the first world war. Nor do the current tensions have anything like the ideological and global dimensions that shaped the 40-year confrontation between the west and the Soviet Union.