Russia’s 2008 campaign against Georgia secured the independence of the border regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but it has curried considerably less favor in the region since then. A New York Times article notes that Russia-backed candidates have lost recent elections in both countries, and only intervention by the Supreme Court prevented an opposition candidate from assuming the presidency in South Ossetia. The campaign’s end may not have been enough for Moscow:
The opposition movement leader in the mountainous enclave of South Ossetia had planned to be inaugurated as its rightful president on Friday in an unauthorized ceremony. Instead, she lay unconscious in a hospital with a possible rifle-butt blow to the head, her aides were under arrest and her organization was in disarray, crushed by police officers apparently acting on the Kremlin’s orders.
Putin is known as a coldhearted and calculating politician, but if the Kremlin was indeed responsible, this recent incident underscores the fact that Russia still isn’t very good at foreign policy (something Americans have often forgotten since the Cold War). To attack an opposition candidate in a small nation would raise eyebrows in the West while winning it few allies in the nearby regions it wants to keep close. Given the serious problems Russia faces domestically and internationally, such bullying overreach in a relatively small and isolated country is self-defeating, to say the least.