Russia has unilaterally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.The real test of Russian clout will be how many nations follow them on this course. I expect some countries that hope for Russia to anchor an anti-American coalition (Venezuela, perhaps) to extend recognition, while countries loyal to the U.S. will join the Bush administration in its insistence on Georgian territorial integrity. China's attitude is hard to predict. Some expect the Chinese to oppose Russia's move on principle, on the premise that endorsing Ossetian "splittism" would send the wrong message to Uighurs, Tibetans and other restive elements in their own country. It's not clear, however, whether China conducts its foreign policy according to ideology or pragmatism. To the extent that the Chinese government values Russia as a partner in any "anti-hegemonic" or anti-American front, they might well happily play the hypocrites and recognize the new states to keep Russia's good will. On the other hand, if they begin to read this month's news as proof that Russia wants to play hegemon itself, they might throw their support behind the U.S. (and send a consistent message to their own people on splittism) in order to maintain a balance of power.
This MSNBC item will tell you more about the Russian decision and the American response, but I want you to notice the inherent bias in the reporting. The average reader would get an impression from this story that Russia is doing something extraordinary, even unique among nations, in throwing its weight around this way. An uninformed person might go away believing that Russia is the only nation that claims a sphere of influence in which its "clout" should predominate. I'd like to hope the writer would know better and reflect that superior knowledge in the story, but I don't know if I can assume it. If more people understood that other nations, including ours, have spheres of their own and have enforced them with force in the past, they might find Russia's actions more palatable, or our own less so.