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Zakaria: Russia overplayed hand in Georgia

  • Story Highlights
  • Fareed Zakaria says Russia's actions will be viewed as "a major strategic blunder"
  • Zakaria calls Russia's recognition of Georgia's two breakaway provinces "a joke"
  • Analyst: Russia has moved in "anti-modern" directions in recent years
  • Zakaria says U.S. shouldn't overreact, let world reaction play itself out
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Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN at 1 p.m. ET Sundays.

Fareed Zakaria says he doesn't think the crisis between Russia and Georgia is likely to be resolved soon.

Fareed Zakaria says he doesn't think the crisis between Russia and Georgia is likely to be resolved soon.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of orchestrating the conflict in Georgia to benefit one of its presidential candidates.

In an exclusive interview Thursday with CNN's Matthew Chance in the Black Sea city of Sochi, Russia, Putin said the U.S. had encouraged Georgia to attack the autonomous region of South Ossetia.

Putin said his defense officials had told him it was done to benefit a presidential candidate, but he presented no evidence to back it up.

"U.S. citizens were indeed in the area in conflict," Putin said. "They were acting in implementing those orders doing as they were ordered, and the only one who can give such orders is their leader."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino blasted Putin's statements, saying they were "patently false."

Russia is trying to counterbalance mounting pressure from the West over its military action in Georgia and its recognition of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But Russia's hopes of winning international support were dashed Thursday when China and other Asian nations expressed concern about tension in the region.

The joint declaration from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, said the countries hoped that any further conflict could be resolved peacefully.

CNN spoke to world affairs expert and author Fareed Zakaria about the Russia-Georgia situation.

CNN: Is the crisis between Russia and Georgia likely to get resolved soon?

Zakaria: No, positions are actually hardening. The Russians have formally recognized the two regions of Georgia -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- and on our program, the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has demanded the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers, to be replaced by European Union peacekeepers.

So the two sides are actually further apart than they were 10 days ago.

CNN: Who will prevail?

Zakaria: It's difficult to see the circumstances under which Russia will withdraw completely.

On the other hand, its recognition of the two provinces is a joke. Almost no country in the world has followed them in this recognition.

So they might be willing to reverse themselves on this issue. But I can't see them getting out completely.

CNN: So Russia wins?

Zakaria: Well, even if it wins in the narrow sense, it will lose in a broader sense. Russia's actions have scared all their neighbors, aroused anti-Russian nationalism, driven the Poles, the Ukrainians and so many other countries closer to the West and away from Moscow.

Countries around the world have been startled by the Soviet-era tactics. And what have they gained for all this? South Ossetia. I think this will go down in history as a major strategic blunder.

The Russians have massively overplayed their hand.

CNN: Why did they do it?

Zakaria: They would argue that the West pushed and punished them after the collapse of the Soviet Union and that by expanding NATO to their borders, it signaled that it still saw Russia as a rival and relations as competitive.

Perhaps there is some truth to their perception, but there were also much broader developments in Russia over the last decade.

The rise of Russian nationalism, an anti-Western and anti-democratic movement, the rise of an elected dictatorship, and above all, the rise in oil wealth, which always produces corruption, dysfunction and arrogance.

Russia has moved in anti-modern directions, and much of it has nothing to do with what the West did or didn't do.

CNN: What should the United States do?

Zakaria: Assist Georgia in rebuilding and securing itself. Assure countries like Poland that may be insecure. But also, don't overreact.

Russia's blunder is producing a reaction in the region and across the world. Let that play itself out. We should be firm in insisting that they cannot re-impose their rule in Georgia, but there is little to be gained in a total cutoff with Moscow.

We have to deal with Russia on many issues, from Iran to North Korea. Nobody benefits from a new Cold War, not the Russians and not the U.S.

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