Russia sends a message through "disproportionate" force on Georgia

Both Georgia and the former Soviet republic of Ukraine are seeking to join the NATO alliance. Russia appears to be using the Georgia crisis in Ossetia to ram home to the United States and its allies that it will not accept further expansion of NATO.

The Russian invasion "sends a message to all of the countries in the former Soviet space that Russia is resurgent and is willing to flex its muscles," said David Philips, an expert with the Atlantic Council.

A national security official at the White House said the United States has "made it clear to the Russians that if the disproportionate and dangerous escalation on the Russian side continues, that this will have a significant long-term impact on U.S.-Russian relations."

State-run media quoted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as defending Russia's intervention as "totally legitimate". Putin's comments reflect Russia's longstanding anger over NATO expansion, U.S. support for the admission of Georgia and Ukraine to the alliance, and the Bush administration's plan to build missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Russia is a major supplier of natural gas to Europe - its top eight customers are all NATO members, according the U.S. Energy Department - and has already shown that it is prepared to reduce supplies over disagreements.

[McClatchy Newspapers]

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