Lost amidst the pageantry and spectacle of the opening of the Beijing Olympics and the medias faux shock at the confirmation of John Edwards infidelity, Russian military forces invaded the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia Friday. After a weekend of punishing assaults on the Georgian military that resulted in its withdraw from the rebellious province; the injection of Russian forces into the separatist province of Abkhazia; the establishment of a Russian naval blockade of Georgias Black Sea coast; the initiation of a coordinated and comprehensive cyber offensive against Georgian government websites that resulted in the seizure and control of several of their servers; and Russias rejection of a Georgian ceasefire offer; Moscow appears intent on carving up, if not devouring its former republic in the heart of the Caucuses. As the international community struggles to develop a consensus on the Russian aggression, its military struck a Georgian Special Forces battalion and air traffic control center near the capital of Tbilisi Monday. Hamstrung by the fact that Russia retains a veto in the United Nations Security Council, western options appear increasingly limited as the Russian offensive continues apace. Launched in response to Russian claims of a Georgian massacre in the breakaway region, the invasion highlights a number of critical realities the United States and its western allies must contend with as well as menacing signals to other states in the region. -Foremost, a resurgent Russia considers its former frontier republics in the near abroad its exclusive sphere of influence and will not lightly tolerate western involvement in the region. -Further NATO expansion eastward into the Eurasian landmass and the doorstep of the Rodina is both unwelcome and intolerable. With the inclusion of many of its former Warsaw Pact allies in the western alliance, a sense of encirclement and aggressive containment already fills the halls of the Kremlin and feeds the paranoia of the senior military establishment. Many analysts attribute this as the basis for Russias burgeoning alliance with China and the cultivation of what many believe to be an increasingly anti-western orientation in the Shanghi Cooperation Organization. Accordingly, the invasion is a warning both to NATO and those currently being considered for future membership; such as Ukraine. Were Georgia a member of NATO today, the Russian invasion would be considered an attack on all members of the alliance that necessitated a collective response. One must ask how much blood Washington, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Warsaw are willing to spill to defend Georgian territorial integrity and political independence. -The invasion and the tentative response highlight the Wests lack of resolve and willpower to confront a resurgent Russia. With the US preoccupied in Iraq; its European allies struggling to maintain the willpower to assist it in Afghanistan; the growing dependence of Europe on Russian energy exports and a Germany that appears to be drifting eastward politically; a unified and credible Western response seems farfetched at first glance. This in turn creates doubts among those states geographically and politically caught in the middle of the divide between the Western alliance and the resurgent Bear. Can NATO and the US truly be relied upon to answer the call should the Bear threaten to maul others that have taken the risk of tacking westward? -Squashing any doubts concerning his role and power after leaving the Russian presidency, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has boldly and brazenly displayed his control over the Russian state in the course of its invasion of its diminutive former republic. Showing both his contempt for the Wests tepid response and his ultimate intentions for the Georgian government, Putin said, "Of course, Saddam Hussein ought to have been hanged for destroying several Shiite villages. And the incumbent Georgian leaders who razed ten Ossetian villages at once, who ran elderly people and children with tanks, who burned civilian alive in their sheds these leaders must be taken under protection." It is a shame that some of our partners are not helping us but, essentially, are hindering us,' Putin added. The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing. And thus, in the waning months of its term, the Bush administration finds both Americas and the Wests credibility and resolve tested in the face of wanton Russian aggression and contempt. As the clock appears to be winding down towards the fall of Tbilisi, what response can the lame duck muster to save its position on the world stage as well as the hopes and independence of millions of citizens of the former Soviet republics that now cower once again in Moscows growing shadow? Clearly, the Bear is no longer content to rest peacefully in its cave, faithful readers. Stay tuned for further updates as events warrant and Mother Russia whips her upstart children back into line.