This time last year a short, sharp war in the Caucasus provided an unwelcome distraction from the opening days of the Beijing Olympics. For the best part of a week, Georgian and Russian troops vented long-held resentments with armed force. For a few hours, there was even a Cold War-style threat of a military confrontation between US and Russian forces, as US warships and Russian troops both descended on the Black Sea coast. Mercifully, both sides held back.
In the 12 months that have passed, it could be argued that not much has changed. Yesterday was a day of mourning and commemoration in Georgia; flags were lowered, church services held, and new pleas made on behalf of the thousands who remain refugees in their own country after being driven from their homes in South Ossetia. Russia, which retains suzerainty both of South Ossetia and Georgia's other minority enclave, Abkhazia, defended its intervention. The report of an international commission into how the war came about, including the vexed question of who started it, has been delayed. In Georgia, despite forecasts that he could be overthrown, Mikheil Saakashvili is still in power.
Yet while tensions remain, especially around South Ossetia, there have been changes. The competing ambitions of both Georgia and Russia have been curbed. Almost no country followed Russia in recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has not succeeded in bending Georgia to its will. The war also demonstrated once again the risks to the West of over-reliance on one individual leader.
The new realism can also be seen in the efforts of President Obama to rebalance US relations with Georgia. He has scaled back promises of Nato membership, while promising continued support and also trying to put relations with Russia on a new footing. The aftermath of the war has afforded a glimpse, too, of what more active European Union diplomacy might achieve. The six-point agreement negotiated by President Sarkozy, while not perfectly observed, has held and provides the framework for a longer-term settlement. Progress may be modest, but today's uneasy peace is infinitely preferable to last year's war.Reuse content