It can't be coincidence that Russia chose China's big day in the Olympic spotlight -- and a day when the nations of the world are supposed to suspend their geopolitical animosities in favor of more healthy forms of competition -- to launch a brutal military attack on Georgia. And that makes it a provocation not just to the former Soviet republic but to the world.
Russia's issues with Georgia, as with its other former satellites, have been simmering on a low boil for years. Mother Russia doesn't want one of her former charges joining NATO. And Georgia's embrace of American values must rankle Kremlin insiders, who may have lost the ideology but have Soviet attitude (and aggression) implanted in their genes. The tensions have been there for years -- Ralph Peters does his usual bang-up job of laying it all out in this New York Post column -- but as far as I can see, there was no compelling reason for Russia to attack now. Any other nation would have delayed bringing down the hammer until after the games, in deference to the spirit of the thing. But not Putin's Russia.
Peters thinks Putin timed the attack to coincide with the opening ceremonies because he thought it would divert world attention away from his military aggression. I suspect just the opposite -- that Putin fully intended to steal the show, and to upstage a longstanding rival (China), with an in-your-face show of military muscle.
Chinese leaders must be furious about the timing, Peters notes. But the rest of the world should be more than just furious; it should be alarmed.