The post-WWII world order is in shambles.

The Georgian-Ossetian latent conflict erupted in the Five Day War in August 2008. It became the third armed clash between Georgia and South Ossetia in 17 years. Its consequences, however, put this round of hostilities in a different league from the previous clashes.

The international community never took notice of ethnic conflicts in Eurasia before 2008. Both the United States and Europe regarded them as latent and forgotten. The Five Day War put the post-Soviet zone in the focus of international attention for the first time since disintegration of the USSR. The UN Security Council discussed the situation in South Ossetia on three (!) occasions within the first twenty-four hours of the conflict. All this interest in the Caucasus and its problems is easily understandable. Development of the new status quo in the post-Soviet zone began precisely in the Caucasus. Two conflicts in Eurasia out of four turned out to be anything but latent. Old peacekeeping operations and agreements fixing the outcome of the hostilities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s became history.

To begin with, these developments in the southern part of the Caucasus became the first violations of the so called Byelovezhskaya Puscha concept. It stipulated that the borders existing between the former republics of the Soviet Union would be borders of the new sovereign states. Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia set a precedent of revision of the borders within the Commonwealth. Emulating what Washington and Brussels did with Kosovo, Moscow may talk of how unique the situation with the former Georgian autonomies is until it is blue in its collective face. It will change nothing. August 2008 set a precedent of successful ethnic self-determination based on military might rather than on a compromise. That all involved and interested parties will seriously ponder it (are pondering, actually) goes without saying. No use arguing whether or not the Russian president was correct to swiftly respond to appeals from both houses of the Federal Assembly. Once a tough and unpopular decision is made (and this decision is unpopular because not even Russia’s CIS allies backed it), a sovereign state is stuck with it. It cannot be unmade without doing substantial damage, more substantial that what was already done.

The decision on August 26 was made in certain political circumstances that had been either absent before then or had been infinitesimal enough to be ignored.

Whatever else it was, the Five Day War became proof that the process of disintegration of the late USSR was far from over yet. Instead of becoming the end of history, formal collapse of the erstwhile state put into motion the process of development of sovereign states and a search for their political identities that resulted in armed conflicts, attempts to put them on hold, and finally in their reactivation.

Secondly, the events in South Ossetia demonstrated apparent and utter ineffectiveness of legitimate international arbitration. Instead of interceding to make peace, world powers split into two factions, each with a favorite of its own. The United States with allies backed “territorial integrity” of Georgia despite brutality of Tbilisi’s efforts to restore it. Russia in its turn abandoned is status of a peacekeeper in favor of that of a military-political patron of the former Georgian autonomies. Each faction meanwhile attached more importance to unilateral actions than to the existing international law.

It is possible for the existing centers of power these days to recognize political units as sovereign states or deny them this recognition regardless of the accepted legitimate criteria. Some UN states including three permanent members of the UN Security Council recognized the former Serbian autonomy as a sovereign state in February 2008. Permanent member of the UN Security Council and Atomic Club, Russia recognized sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008. In the meantime, Russia flatly refuses to recognize Kosovo while the United States and its EU allies keep signing hosannah to the Georgian territorial integrity. In a word, common rules, standards, and criteria no longer work. Political expediency is the only guideline. It did not begin yesterday, of course. Last year events became but another confirmation (in the post-Soviet zone, for a change) of the premise that the Yalta-Potsdam version of the international law is history and that nothing has been developed to replace it.

In August 2008, Russia proclaimed itself another center of power (the way Washington and Brussels had done six months earlier) prone to recognize as sovereign state what political unit it considered worthy of this status. The Five Day War delivered another blow at the already crumbling model of the world order established after WWII. The UN is functioning but nominally these days while both Washington and Moscow make endless references to international law. In reality, however, international law is a fiction, something like the social theoretizations of Marx and Lenin. Back in the Soviet Union, it was possible to prove absolutely anything, even mutually exclusive postulates, and find adequate quotations in the works of the classics to corroborate it.

World powers ought to work out a new world order now because the alternatives – the law of jungle and reliance on military might alone – do not bear consideration. That Russia is not alone to rely on firepower is cold comfort, really.