The Bear: Mission Accomplished Moment?

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

At the end of the third inning we declared victory and said the game's over. It ain't over. It isn't going to be over in future wars. If we're talking about the future, we need to talk about not how you win the peace as a separate part of the war, but you've got to look at this thing from start to finish. It's not a phased conflict; there isn't a fighting part and then another part. It is nine innings. And at the end of the game, somebody's going to declare victory. And whatever blood is poured onto the battlefield could be wasted if we don't follow it up with understanding what victory is.

--General Anthony Zinni- Naval Institute Forum, Sept. 2003

First item - Blast Kills 7 Russian Troops in S. Ossetia - Philip Pan, Washington Post

A car bomb exploded outside Russia's military headquarters in South Ossetia on Friday, killing seven soldiers and two others in what leaders of the Kremlin-backed separatist region immediately described as a terrorist attack launched by Georgia.

The blast in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, came amid continuing tensions as a cease-fire deadline approached for Russian troops to withdraw from territory around the breakaway region, which has declared its independence from Georgia.

Russian troops had seized the car in a Georgian village outside South Ossetia and taken it to Tskhinvali to be searched after detaining four individuals who were carrying guns and grenades, Maj. Gen. Marat Kulakhmetov, the commander of the Russian forces, told the Interfax news agency.

More at the Washington Post, New York Times, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press.

And this broader item - in tomorrow's Post - Behind the Bluster, Russia Is Collapsing by Murray Feshbach

The bear is back. That's what all too many Russia-watchers have been saying since Russian troops steamrolled Georgia in August, warning that the country's strongman, Vladimir Putin, was clawing his way back toward superpower status. The new Russia's resurgence has been fueled -- quite literally -- by windfall profits from gas and oil, a big jump in defense spending and the cocky attitude on such display during the mauling of Georgia, its US-backed neighbor to the south. Many now believe that the powerful Russian bear of the Cold War years is coming out of hibernation.

Not so fast. Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. Sure, Russia's army could take tiny Georgia. But Putin's military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia's economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it's facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic.

To be sure, the skylines of Russia's cities are chock-a-block with cranes. Industrial lofts are now the rage in Moscow, Russian tourists crowd far-flung locales from Thailand to the Caribbean, and Russian moguls are snapping up real estate and art in London almost as quickly as their oil-rich counterparts from the Persian Gulf. But behind the shiny surface, Russian society may actually be weaker than it was even during Soviet times. The Kremlin's recent military adventures and tough talk are the bluster of the frail, not the swagger of the strong.

While Russia has capitalized impressively on its oil industry, the volatility of the world oil market means that Putin cannot count on a long-term pipeline of cash flowing from high oil prices. A predicted drop of about one-third in the price of a barrel of oil will surely constrain Putin's ability to carry out his ambitious agendas, both foreign and domestic.

That makes Moscow's announced plan to boost defense spending by close to 26 percent in 2009 - in order to fully re-arm its military with state-of-the-art weaponry - a dicey proposition. What the world saw in Georgia was a badly outdated arsenal, one that would take many years to replace - even assuming the country could afford the $200 billion cost.

Something even larger is blocking Russia's march. Recent decades, most notably since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, have seen an appalling deterioration in the health of the Russian population, anchoring Russia not in the forefront of developed countries but among the most backward of nations.

Much more at The Washington Post.

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