I know this is an Estonia blog, but the situation in Georgia is important in the context of demonstrating how much support allies of the United States can actually depend on when Russia makes its "interests" known. From a historical perspective, it's hard not to see the Russian empire in a long slow process of devolution - akin perhaps to the long, slow death of the UK, which played out into the 1960s and 70s as former imperial possessions (like Jamaica) attained independence. But as the empire unravels, the powers that be hold onto symbolic clumps of Earth to show that they aren't out of the game just yet (like the Falkland Islands).
And so Russia, vanquished by the expansion of NATO and the EU to its western borders, must now show its response to NATO encroachment in the south. There are signals that the US is serious about expanding the alliance to Georgia and the Saakashivili government maintains its wishes to join the ranks of organization (although Georgia isn't exactly close to the North Atlantic - but who are we to be fixated on names?!).
This conflicts with Russia's interests, which are having Lukashenko-like allies in all territories of the Former Soviet Union (at least) and the Russian Empire of 1914 (the most desirable option).
How this conflict plays out - Zhiranovsky is already calling for occupation and war - could have a lot of impact on how Russia and the US deliberate in future conflicts. Will the US symbolically protest military actions by Russia? Does Russia really feel that fighting a war in Georgia is in its best interests, given its inability to fully subdue the Chechen uprising, more than a decade after the first Chechen war? And what will be the premise for that conflict? ALmost forgotten is that this is about two renegade provinces of Georgia - Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Any conflict would most likely revolve around the actions of Georgia's military in the context of Russia defending its compatriots abroad.
The easy solution for Western democracies would be to take the NATO card out of the conflict, and to instead insist on the bureaucratic "EU" solution - plebiscites to determine the future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - therefore ending the situation peacefully. They would be held at the same time, and would be administered by a non-aligned international force (would the UN do?). Voters in those territories would then be able to decide for themselves whether or not those provinces remained in Georgia or joined the Russian Federation. And all would be right and merry in the world and there would be no war and John Lennon would rise from the dead proclaiming Peace on Earth.
No seriously, I think it's an option. I doubt, however, the willingness of either side to agree to such plebiscites. In the meantime, the conflict will carry on . . .