Jubilant citizens of South Ossetia and Abkhazia celebrated after the Russian parliament backed their bid to leave Georgia.
Waving the Russian and South Ossetian flags, they drove down Stalin Street in Tskhinvali, crying victory.
Most seem convinced things will be better now.
“We will have a normal life, peace, calm, freedom, the normal possibilities to develop,” said one woman.
“I am delighted and happy. We have waited so long for this day,” was another reaction.
The US says Russian recognition of the two regions would be unacceptable, but Moscow may not need two new vassal states if its military forces can deploy at will in the Caucasus. And it has just proved that they can.
Most Russian forces have now left, but the commander of Abkhazian forces claimed on Russian television that his men had found weapons of mass destruction in a base in the buffer zone deserted by Georgian forces.
Parliament’s call for independence is non-binding on the Kremlin, but it remains on the table, a potential bargaining chip for President Medvedev.
For the moment, he has chosen not to cash it, and the Kremlin remians silent on parliament’s initiative.
But Medvedev is talking tough, saying he is prepared to take any decision, including breaking relations with NATO if it imposed sanctions. He added he did not need an illusion of partnership with the Western alliance.