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After war in Georgia, what does Russia want?
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    MOSCOW — After a brief victorious war, the Kremlin must decide what to do with its triumph.
    The Kremlin has already reasserted its historic military dominance in the region, punished Georgia for its surprise attack on South Ossetia’s capital and humiliated a bitter foe, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
    Now, Russia is expected to set up permanent military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and establish a security zone around their borders. It appears poised to charge Saakashvili with genocide in a Russian court, and strengthen ties with the two separatist regions.
    After that, there is no certainty about what might happen.
    One option is for the Kremlin to recognize the independence claims of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, or even Russian annexation of both areas. Moscow also might demand that Georgia slash the size of its armed forces.
    Whatever the Kremlin demands are, the world will be forced to listen.
    After the Soviet collapse, a weakened and impoverished Russia struggled to exert influence. In recent years it has relied on energy wealth to assert its will. Now its willingness to flex military muscle compels the West to pay greater heed.
    ‘‘The situation in the post-Soviet area has changed significantly,’’ said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs Magazine. ‘‘Russia is ready and able to use force outside its borders. That’s a different situation.’’
    But in exploiting its victory, Russia risks further antagonizing the international community — which could hurt the country’s economy and cost it international prestige. Already, there is serious talk in the West of stripping Russia of its membership in the elite Group of Eight club of nations.
    Russia must also worry about ties to its neighbors, particular in the former Soviet sphere. Some of Russia’s allies may turn to China, increasingly a major player in the competition for Central Asian energy reserves.
    Foreign policy experts here, as well as intelligence officials in the U.S., agreed that Russia is unlikely to permanently occupy Georgian territory, or to back any efforts by separatist forces to seize additional territory.
    Neither, several experts said, is Moscow likely to try to disrupt shipments through Georgia’s Batumi-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, or BTC, pipeline, the only conduit for crude from Central Asia to Europe that bypasses Russia.
    ‘‘This is not about oil,’’ said Kimberly Marten, an expert on Russian defense and foreign policy at Barnard College. ‘‘The only oil at stake is what’s flowing through the BTC pipeline to Turkey, something that involves many big Western oil companies; and if Russia were to do anything to disrupt that, it would become a pariah in Europe.’’
    But Russia could take other steps that would trigger international condemnation and further its diplomatic isolation.
    Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, said Thursday that Moscow no longer recognized Georgia’s territorial sovereignty, suggesting the Kremlin was prepared to absorb Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where many residents hold Russian passports.
    Even if Moscow limits itself to recognizing the independence of the two contested regions, there would be trouble.
    Alexander Konovalov, president of Moscow’s Institute of Strategic Assessment, said such a move would weaken Russia’s arguments against recognition of the independence of Kosovo, which broke from Moscow-backed Serbia this year.
    ‘‘It will shrink Russia’s ability to operate in foreign policy,’’ he said.
    The Kremlin has fought two wars against rebels in the Russian region of Chechnya, and still clashes with insurgents in several of its Caucasus mountain republics. Formal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would only encourage Russia’s own separatist movements, Konovalov said.
    Still, Russia might use the genocide charge against Saakashvili to argue that Georgia forfeited its right to rule Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
    ‘‘Georgia has lost the moral legality of its claim’’ to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the presidium of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.
    The war may have weakened Ukraine’s bid to enter NATO, some experts predicted, because of European concerns about antagonizing Russia. The defeat of Georgia, an ally of Washington, also could reduce the influence of the United States in the former Soviet Union — particularly among the rulers of Central Asia.
    ‘‘They always closely follow who is the boss, who is stronger,’’ said Lukyanov, of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. ‘‘If they come to the conclusion that the U.S. is less strong now than before, I can’t exclude that they will turn their attention more to Russia — or to China.’’
    Karaganov, of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, said Moscow should demand that Georgia shrink its military forces ‘‘to a bare minimum,’’ to prevent a repeat of what he called its aggression.
    But one U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, that Georgia is an ally and needs to be able to defend itself. ‘‘Once the dust settles, we can then look at assisting Georgia in rebuilding their military,’’ he said.
    Russia seems determined to bring charges of genocide and mass murder against Saakashvili in a Russian court, and has investigators scouring South Ossetia for evidence. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin assailed the West for failing to condemn Saakashvili’s military campaign in South Ossetia, which included tank warfare waged on city streets.
    Douglas Birch is AP’s Moscow bureau chief. Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Carley Petesch in New York and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.

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