The first thing Kansas University professor Diana Carlin thought of when she saw the Russian invasion of Georgia wasn't what effect it would have on the stability of the region.
"My first thought was, 'I was just there and I know people,'" she said. "On a personal level my first concern is for the safety of those who I worked with."
Carlin, who teaches communication studies, was in Georgia in December as an election observer.
Russian forces invaded Georgia on Aug. 10, a day after seizing control over separatist South Ossetia from Georgia. Russia's military reaction came after Georgia launched a surprise attack on South Ossetia on Aug. 8. South Ossetia has a large, Russia-loyal ethnic population and has had ongoing tensions with Georgia.
While there, Carlin said it was education, health care and unemployment that dominated public concerns. Yet, at the back of everyone's mind, she said, was the brewing tension between Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia.
Marc Greenberg, chair of KU's Slavic languages and literature department, said it wasn't surprising to him that Russia invaded Georgia after it had already taken foot in South Ossetia.
"Russia was waiting for a propitious moment to punish Georgia," he said. "South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been Russia's toeholds in the region and Russia has been unhappy for quite some time with Georgia's leaning toward the EU and America."
Greenberg said he thought it was a pity that Russia viewed itself as an entity unto itself opposed to Europe and the United States, and felt that Russia was picking fights it knew it could win.
Greenberg said that although he couldn't see the future, he did think it was possible the invasion could set off a new Cold War.
"Even if the 'state of war' ends soon, the process whereby Russia attempts to reintegrate parts of the former Russian/Soviet Empire will probably not end in the foreseeable future," he said. "Russia has quite a bit of leverage to do so and the everyday people whose lives will be affected will have little influence on how it goes."
The human impact is still hard to ignore, especially as the issue becomes increasingly blurred.
Erik Herron, a KU professor who has friends and colleagues in Georgia, said he was relieved to know that they were safe for now.
But the issue isn't as black and white as some in the press have made it out to be, Herron said. Georgia's goal to be accepted to NATO - an organization that Russian officials see as adverse toward them - was seen as a threat.
"That, understandably, would be threatening to Russia," Herron said. "Just as it would be threatening to the United States if a country along our border were to join an alliance that is perceived as antagonistic to the U.S. But the invasion into Georgia is hard to justify."
Herron said Georgian President Mikhail Saakashivili's presentation as an embattled democratic leader is equally tenuous.
"His portrayal as an embattled democrat is challenged by his own actions in the last few months," he said. "He closed an opposition television station, at least temporarily. He has harshly repressed opposition protesters."
In the end, he said, it was extremely difficult to know what was happening.
"I have great sympathies for my friends and colleagues in Georgia," Herron said.