>>The Russians and Eastern Ukranians remember the US from Serbia/Kosovo, and they remember the ethnic Russians in South Ossetia.
To be honest there weren’t too much ethnic-Russians in Ossetia.
Ossetians are simply Christians of Iranian origin living in this area for centuries. Russians historically maintained relations with them to use imaginary or real threats from local Muslims towards Ossetians to ride in and kick some Muslim butt.
This time it was a fellow Christian Georgians who behaved as nasty as usually Muslims does in Russian opinion and it made sense to play Ossetian card against them.
It hasn’t helped that Georgians has treated Ossetians as untermenschen.
It is exactly what made Georgian Iranians a Russian nationals. For persecuted non-citizens of a banana republic of Georgia, falsely advertised as a young democracy and vibrant economy by neo-cons, Russian citizenship offered by consular office in Tskhinvali was a bargain.
Even as Georgians has fixed their attitudes and offered some rights to Ossetians it couldn’t help much. Unlike for the rest of Georgians, crawling through a Russian border at night wasn’t a requirement to get a good job for them anymore. Not to mention they could travel to about the half of the world without visas with Russian passport.