AMID the crisis in Georgia, powerful voices in Russia are calling for the restoration of the Soviet Union.

Vladimir Putin's short, sharp lesson to a challenging former Soviet state has unleashed patriotic pride in Russia and nostalgia for the glory days of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin's brutal message to its former satellite states, and the West, that its great-power interests cannot be ignored, has delighted Russia's nationalist masses. A new-found confidence is generating its own momentum, with calls for the restoration of the Soviet Union.

Recognising that the message has hit a nerve, Yevgeny Fedorov, the influential chairman of the Russian Duma's parliament political economy house committee, has given weight to the pressure groups backing the initiative. He reminded parliament last week that "the forces behind Ukraine's orange revolution' and Georgia's rose revolution'," Kremlin shorthand for the US and Nato, have greatly weakened Russia's position in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the pro-Russian rump of the former Soviet empire. "Russia must seek allies within the CIS with a view to re-establishing the concept of one nation, different states'," he said.

Recently, a secret conference, sponsored by the Kremlin, took place in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, Georgia's other breakaway region. Representatives of Russian minorities from the Baltic states, Moldova's Transnistria enclave, eastern Ukraine, South Ossetia and Abkhazia discussed the fate of breakaway regions. In their final resolution they warned that, "if the historic role' of Russia is ignored by the countries that had thrown off the yoke of communism, dangerous consequences will ensue."

This concept is not new. It was Lenin's thesis for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In Putin's "controlled democracy" no important political initiatives are launched without the Kremlin's direct approval, Fedorov's call is seen as kite-flying for the restoration of the old federal structure of the USSR. Mother Russia wants to get, the neighbouring states of the former Soviet empire back under her control.

The theme has been taken up by several Kremlin-sponsored pressure groups, including Unity in the Name of Russia and Politika. Vyacheslav Nikonov, Unity's president, used the Georgian conflict to demand that "Russia should strengthen and build up its ties with these countries in a new framework".

Mikhail Leontyev, a nationalist journalist and propagandist of pro-Kremlin policies, took the idea a step further on Moscow's Pervy Kanal TV channel. In a commentary on US and EU demands that Russia must respect Georgia's sovereignty, he said last week: "Russia has not got to take note now of Western views on the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict. Russia must strengthen her position in the geopolitical space of the former Soviet Union."

Russia's ruthless response to Georgia's (and, by proxy, Ukraine's) Nato membership hopes has been met by dithering and impotent bluster by the transatlantic alliance. The Kremlin, flush with gas and petro-dollars, appears to prefer to forego friendship with the West if that is the price of its great-power interests being observed. Its drive to reassert its dominance in the ex-Soviet sphere of influence with military might bears this out. The move to restore the Soviet Union, perhaps under some new fig-leaf, is music to the ears of 25 million Russians stranded in the USSR's successor states.

Nato's new eastern European members, formerly of Russia's imperial bailiwick, failed to take heed. So have the two prospective candidates, Georgia and Ukraine. They are now all uneasily watching the rampage of the Russian military in Georgia.