Putin puppet to Bush: We'll "guarantee" South Ossetia's autonomy

A declaration of independence. Ante up!

President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said Thursday that Russia would act as an international guarantor of the two pro-Russian enclaves at the center of the crisis with Georgia, and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said that Georgia’s territorial integrity was “de facto limited because of the war.”

Together, the comments offered a sharp retort to President Bush’s insistence a day earlier that “the sovereign and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.”…

According to Reuters, he said: “Russia’s position is unchanged: we will support any decisions taken by the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in accordance with the U.N. Charter,” adding that “not only do we support but we will guarantee them.”

“One can forget about any talk about Georgia’s territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state,” Mr. Lavrov said, The Associated Press reported.

The White House sneers that it’s little more than “bluster.” Is it? Not only are they reportedly massing armor in Georgian territory but they’re wrecking military installations, including some of the airfields which, presumably, the U.S. needs to fly in humanitarian aid — despite Bush’s warning yesterday to Russia not to “interfere” with relief efforts. Gates reiterated this morning that the U.S. expects Russia to honor the ceasefire agreement, but isn’t that what they’re doing? As Ed noted earlier, that quirky provision granting them “additional security measures” gives them de facto carte blanche; according to a senior U.S. official quoted in the Times piece, the language “would allow the Russians to do almost anything.” Hence their ability to occupy not only Gori but the port of Poti even as they’re supposedly in the process of pulling out.

McCain made some suggestions yesterday about next moves but doubtless this is headed for the UN for a deal on the two provinces. Exit question: What form will the final “compromise” take? Will Russian troops redeploy to just outside the provinces so that they’re not technically occupying the territory but are casting a large enough shadow that they might as well be? Or will the UN actually permit them to stay put while sending a force of international peacekeepers in a token show of oversight that’ll amount to absolutely nothing if Russia decides to get aggressive?