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“I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls."

That, allegedly, was the promise Russian premier Vladimir Putin made to French president Nicolas Sarkozy during last summer's 10-day conflict between Russia and the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia. The clash over Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia took the world by surprise, and forced two stunned presidential campaigns to respond accordingly.

Obama's response - coupled with the unfortunate timing of a Hawaiian vacation during the conflict - struck a brief blow to Obama's presidential bid, perhaps forcing him to select a vice presidential running mate with foreign policy bona fides. In stepped Senator Joe Biden.

But will President-elect Obama have another Russian crisis to handle? There's no guarantee, but Moscow has made it abundantly clear that it won't tolerate western encroachment in the federation's immediate sphere of influence, or the 'Near Abroad.' Russian-Georgian relations remain strained and volatile, while Moscow's recent threat to deploy missiles on the European border sent nations like Lithuania and Poland scrambling for the west's intervention.

Moscow is unlikely to antagonize any NATO-aligned nations, but the same can't be said for Georgia, Ukraine and Eurasian countries such as Azerbaijan. With Europe increasingly dependent on Russia to keep the lights on, would President Obama be left alone to defend these besieged states?

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