Putin puppet: Georgia cannot go "unpunished"; Update: Russian navy to "visit" Venezuela

No word yet on what the punishment might entail, but placing short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Tbilisi in South Ossetia may offer a clue. Oddly enough, the withdrawal that they promised would begin today doesn’t yet seem to involve much actual withdrawal. The Times reports Russian tanks smashing through Georgian police barricades and lounging beside the highway to the capital, but the Telegraph says it’s worse than that:

An American defence official said that Russia was actually sending more troops to South Ossetia and another pro-Russian enclave in Abkhazia.

“We’re seeing them solidify their positions,” the official was quoted as saying…

There was little sign of redeployment from other major towns like Kaspi, Zugdidi and Senaki that have fallen under effective Russian occupation. Six Russian checkpoints blocked the route to the strategic town of Gori where Russian officers prevented journalists from entering to monitor the withdrawal…

Despite US pleas to Mr Medvedev to keep his word after reneging on earlier promises to withdraw, there were further signs that Russia was preparing to bolster its forces in Georgia.

A battalion of Russia’s 76th Guards Airborne Division was moved from Pskov to Beslam, a few miles on the Russian side of the Georgian border.

The confusion here may have to do with the wording of that EU-backed ceasefire that Sarkozy seems so proud of. We didn’t commit to “withdrawal,” claims one Russian diplomat, merely to a “pullback,” diplo-speak for saying that when they do get around to leaving they’re going to occupy South Ossetia, not retreat all the way back to Russia’s borders. What may be the most important detail in all of this, though, is buried in the last sentence of the Telegraph piece, describing Ukrainian alarm at reports of Russian passports being handed out in Crimea. Why’s that significant? Because, per the Times of London, Russia’s been flooding South Ossetia with bogus Russian passports for awhile now to stake its claim to the territory. It’s a Sudetenland strategy, in other words, based on reunification of “ethnic” citizens with the mother country, and it has regional implications:

At the start of the war, Mr Medvedev said it was his constitutional right to defend the “lives and dignity” of Russian citizens, and Georgia’s allies fear that Russia will now begin to throw its weight around in defence of the millions of ethnic Russians who live outside Russia.

The break-up of the Soviet Union left a huge Russian diaspora outside the country. There are more than 8 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine, 4.5 million in Kazakhstan and 1.2 million in the Baltic states.

Russia justified its attack on Georgia as a way of protecting the 90 per cent of South Ossetians who have Russian passports.

How many of the passports are genuine is another question, as the region was infamous for smuggling and counterfeit passports and dollars. Yevgeniya Latynina, a columnist, wrote last week that when the South Ossetian President, Eduard Kokoity, received his passport, he opened it to find that it contained the picture of Abraham Lincoln from the $5 note instead of his own photograph.

NATO’s meeting tomorrow, with some sort of suspension of diplomatic relations on the docket and maybe sanctions. Exit question: Will they actually do anything, or are we in for another stern warning/statement of concern?

Update: Oh good, they want to play in our backyard now. Starring Vladimir Putin as Khrushchev, Hugo Chavez as Castro, and as JFK…

President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday that Russian President Dimitri Medvedev wants to send a Russian naval fleet to visit Venezuela.

“Russia has informed us they intend to visit Venezuela, that is, the intention that a Russian fleet should come to the Caribbean,” Chavez said on his weekly radio program.

“I told the president (Medvedev), ‘If you’re coming to the Caribbean, we’ll welcome you,'” Chavez said, adding that the Russian naval fleet would pay “a friendly and working” visit to Venezuela…

“We very much need them here,” Chavez said of the Russian weapons. “We’ve got the helicopters, the Sukoi fighters and we’re now considering buying some Russian submarines to patrol our territorial waters,” Chavez said.