A rally in the Georgian capital yesterday saw the makings of an anti-Russian coalition. The leaders of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine showed their solidarity with President Saakashvili and denounced what they all saw as Russian aggression. None of these nations want to be dominated by Russia, but what can they do, even together, if Russia wants to dominate them?
It's doubtful whether all of them combined have sufficient military power to deter Russia from attacking any one of them. If so, the six nations must seek the protection of a superpower (which means the United States, since China wouldn't be so stupid) or consider other deterrents. Given existing disparities, each or all of the anti-Russian countries must consider asymmetrical warfare. Cyberwarfare is apparently already under way, though it's unclear whether this has extended beyond patriotic hackers messing with each other's websites.
What about terrorism? Could these countries find ways to make life miserable for Russians until the Russian government learns not to bully other countries? Whatever their capabilities might be, their effectiveness as terrorists is open to question. Studies suggest that terrorism aimed at a foreign power, as opposed to domestic terrorism, works only when the foreign power has a democratic, responsive form of government. Most observers wouldn't describe the Putin-Medvedev regime that way. Also, years of Chechen terrorism haven't exactly softened Russians' opinions on the occupation of that territory. Putin arguably gained his present popularity through his determination to punish the Chechens, which only shows that Russians are no more likely than Americans to think rationally under a terrorist threat. Probably nothing short of nuclear terrorism could deter Russia, as some would say it did during the Cold War.
My friend Crhymethinc would probably suggest targeted assassination as a more promising deterrent. If the six nations were able to get people to kill Putin and Medvedev, the idea is that their successors would think twice about pursuing the same policies. The question, apart from whether our proposed coalition could pull off such a feat, is how public opinion would respond. Since Putin and Medvedev are popular leaders, regardless of how "undemocratic" their policies might be, their assassinations could very well embitter the Russian masses against the six nations, whether the crime could be traced to them (or the Chechens) or not. Depending on how responsive and democratic the Russian political system actually is, public opinion might push the next leaders into war even if they've been properly scared by the example of Putin and Medvedev. In the Russians, their neighbors may face a people whose will to power is undeterrable.
As I've written in the past, in an ideal world none of these countries would be automatically relegated into a Russian sphere of influence. They'd be able to trade and make alliances with whomever they pleased, just as the nations of the Western Hemisphere would be if the Monroe Doctrine became a dead letter. On the other hand, countries that neighbor one another are natural trading partners, so all of the six nations must inevitably have relatively close relations with Russia for their own peoples' convenience. In the long term, the only way to stop large nations like Russia, China or the United States from abusing their size and power is to reach a state in which no one thinks in competitive terms of getting an advantage for his or her nation, but in cooperative terms of improving everybody's quality of life. That time may be a long way away, but it'll stay just as far away if we don't begin to talk about moving in that direction.