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by RAY FLEMING

WE can't say we weren't warned. Last year in Munich in a widely publicised speech Russia's Vladimir Putin said the following: “What is a uni-polar world? It refers to one type of situation, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making. It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. This is pernicious, unacceptable, impossible.” In the past nine days Russia has turned that warning into action, so that the global balance of power has shifted. The United States, the “world's only super power”, can no longer claim that uniqueness, at least as far as Europe is concerned.

I wonder whether Mr Putin's speech ever reached the Oval Office of the White House or whether it was diverted from President Bush's in-tray as not important enough to take any of his time. Certainly, there has been no evidence - between 10 February 2007, when Mr Putin delivered his speech, and 9 August 2008, when America's proxy in the Caucasus, President Saakashvili of Georgia, attacked South Ossetia - that American policy towards Russia changed by an iota. Indeed its hostility towards Russia continued unabated during those eighteen months in a strong plea for Georgia's early admission to NATO and for the establishment of the so-called missile shields in the Czech Republic and Poland close to Russia's borders.

After Iraq it seemed impossible that George W Bush's performance could get any worse. But he should not be underestimated. Even now, worse may yet be to come over Ukraine.