No one is blameless in the dangerous game that has erupted into deadly war in the Caucasus.

Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, foolishly and tragically baited the Russians — or even more foolishly fell into Moscow’s trap — when he sent his army into the separatist enclave of South Ossetia last week. The Bush administration has alternately egged on Saakashvili (although apparently not this time) and looked the other way as the Kremlin has bullied and blackmailed its neighbours and its own people.

Moscow claims it is merely defending the rights of ethnic minorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which have been trying to break from Georgia since the early 1990s. But its ambitions go far beyond. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appears determined to reimpose by force as much of the old Soviet sphere of influence as he can get away with. Saakashvili will have to abandon his ambitions to reassert control over the two regions.

The Europeans, who are far too dependent on Russian gas supplies, have deluded themselves

into believing that they alone will be safe from Moscow’s bullying. The West wants and needs Russia as a full responsible partner. For that, Russia needs to behave responsibly. And the US and Europe must make clear that anything less is unacceptable.