ALTHOUGH the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 was almost universally welcomed as the end of a dangerous era in international relations it was always inevitable that there would be negative consequences from so profound a change. We are seeing one of these today in the war that has so suddenly erupted between Georgia and Russia in South Ossetia. As the Soviet Union collapsed Georgia detached itself and declared its independence; however South Ossetia, a province of Georgia, also took the opportunity to snatch independence and since the early 1990s has existed as an internationally unrecognised autonomous country with strong economic links to Russia.
Georgia has always wanted South Ossetia back and on Thursday launched, an attack on its capital city. This was an ill-judged, headstrong action by Georgia's strongly pro-Western President Saakashvili; he must have known a firm Russian response was likely, and so it has proved.
Frantic diplomatic moves to bring this totally unnecessary war to a close will not be helped by calls from President Bush for the Russians to stop their military response. Just as with his clumsy support for Kosovo, Mr Bush's attempts last year to get Nato membership for Georgia have proved counter-productive, convincing Vladimir Putin that the West wants to put a military ring round Russia's reduced borders. President Saakashvili has made a terrible mistake. Let us hope he was not encouraged by any promises from the West. His comparison yesterday of Georgia's situation with Czechoslavakia's in 1938 was ominous.