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Friday, August 04, 2006

Neo-Soviet Russia Provoking Conflagration in the Caucuses

Newsweek asks: Is Russia trying to provoke a war on Georgia's border?

Last week saw the latest in a series of flare-ups as Georgian troops moved into the remote Kodori valley in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. The Georgians were chasing local tribal leader Emzar Kvitsiani, who had declared that he'd form a private army to resist Tbilisi's authority. Georgia accuses Russia of encouraging Kvitsiani's mini-rebellion; worse, claim the Georgians, Russia's also helping separatists in another restive province, South Ossetia.

Why would Moscow want to set fire to the Caucasus, especially at a time when conflicts are intensifying from Afghanistan to Lebanon? According to Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, Georgia's been "enemy number one" to the Kremlin since its pro-Western Rose Revolution in 2003. This year, though, tensions have come to a head. Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili recently accused Moscow of being behind a mysterious explosion on a gas line. In May, Russia banned imports of Georgian wine, severely hurting its economy. Now skirmishes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have come close to rekindling wars against Georgia's breakaway republics.

The Kremlin denies undermining its southern neighbor, claiming it wants only to be the guarantor of various ceasefire deals with Georgia's rebel provinces. The danger is that future clashes could easily involve Russian troops, who are permanently stationed in both Abkhazia and Ossetia as peacekeepers. Any fire fights between Georgian and Russian troops could quickly escalate into something much more serious than a tribal revolt.

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