A senior Russian general has revived fears of a new Cold War by threatening Poland with a possible nuclear strike, as the President of Georgia bowed to the inevitable and signed a ceasefire the terms of which were dictated by Moscow.
General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia's deputy chief of staff, reflected the Kremlin's fury at an agreement reached on Thursday between the United States and Poland, which is to host part of a US missile defence shield that has been fiercely opposed by Moscow. It "cannot go unpunished", General Nogovitsyn said in Moscow yesterday.
"Poland, by deploying [the system], is exposing itself to a strike – 100 per cent," said the general. But he raised the stakes by coupling the warning with a reminder that Russia's military doctrine provided for the use of nuclear weapons in such a case, and that Poland was aware of this.
The developments came at the end of a day of intensified diplomacy, as the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, spent nearly five hours negotiating with the Georgian President in which she provided "clarifications" about the ceasefire agreement.
Speaking at a news conference outside the presidential palace, an emotional Mr Saakashvili appeared to blame Europe for the Russian invasion of his country, and accused the Russians of being "barbarians" who "despise everything new, everything modern, everything European, everything civilised".
Mr Saakashvili said European leaders who failed to stand up to Moscow shared the blame for the Georgian deaths. The tired-looking President said that months of Russian provocations against Georgia had elicited only "muted and quiet reactions" from European capitals. "Who invited the trouble here? Who invited the arrogance here? Who invited these innocent deaths here? Not only those who perpetrated it but those who allowed it to happen."
Ms Rice struck a much more measured tone, refusing to criticise Europe and making only tempered criticism of Russia. While insisting on an "immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russia's armed forces" in line with the French-brokered truce secured earlier this week, she did not offer any indication of the US response if such action was not forthcoming. She also said that Russia's membership in global clubs was under review.
Despite the ceasefire agreement, assuming it is honoured, there is still a giant gulf between the two sides over what happens next in the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A day after Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said the world could "forget" about Georgia's territorial integrity, Mr Saakashvili stressed that he was not prepared to negotiate the status of the two territories.
But the Georgian leader has suffered a bitter defeat: his army is destroyed, his country ruined, and the Ossetians and Abkhaz are buoyant in the knowledge that they can count on more Russian support than ever before in their desires to be free of Georgian rule.
In Washington, President George Bush kept up his verbal attacks on the Kremlin, accusing Russia of "bullying and intimidation" of an independent nation.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who held talks with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, said the Russian retaliation to the attack by Georgian forces on 8 August against the South Ossetian capital was "disproportionate". Appearing with Mrs Merkel at a joint news conference in Sochi, the Russian President's summer residence, Mr Medvedev spoke out against the US-Polish deal, saying that " the deployment has the Russian Federation as its target". The Russians have rejected the US contention that the missile shield is designed to be used against possible strikes from states such as Iran.
However, Mr Medvedev gave a more sober assessment than General Nogovitsyn, stressing: "It is not dramatic."