I'm back in Moscow for a few meetings this week. It's always nice to come back, having lived a second life here during the years of training for Expedition 10.
It's interesting to see the Russian news coverage of the continuing events in Georgia. Not surprisingly, it paints a different picture than western news coverage.
In thinking about this, it seems to me obvious in hindsight that this conflict was not about South Ossetia or Abkhazia. The West, led by the US has been working to bring Georgia and other former Soviet Satellite countries into NATO for some time now. It is easy to see how this would make Russian leaders uncomfortable. The Russians were sending the US and Europe a message with the invasion. Even though the invasion appears to have had a negative effect for Russia (driving countries like Poland and Ukraine into the arms of the US), the message was clear. I doubt the Russian leaders expected anything else.
The Soviet Union lost the cold war and the resulting Russian Federation had a difficult time getting on it's feet through the Yeltsin years. There is a national sense of resentment and Putin reestablished Russian pride in the population. Now, Russia is striving to again be seen as a superpower.
It is important to consider all sides in any situation. If we can understand how the other guy feels, we should be able to more effectively engage them and come to a solution. However, It is difficult to see how the current crisis might end well. Russia is a significant part of the world economy (the Russian stock market felt the pain of the invasion) and our space programs are inextricably linked for at least the next few years. The US Presidential candidates have to come across as being forceful and strong against Russia at least before the election.
Russia is flexing it's newfound muscles. There are calls in the US Congress to punish Russia. An effect of this might be the end of US astronauts flying aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. As soon as the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010, the US would then have no way to get astronauts into space. Members of Congress are now calling for an extension of the Space Shuttle, but this would be very expensive at this point, since the system has been going through a systematic dismantling since 2005.
The US has backed itself into a corner on this one. How do we get out of it? I don't think anyone really wants a return to the cold war. But, stay tuned, that may be the result.