Bullies of the Caucasus – WSJ.com

A former colleague of mine Tom de Waal that wrote another splendid piece on the Caucasus. This time about the hot dispute between Georgia and Russia, that might spur into a war unfortunately almost any time.

Bullies of the Caucasus

By THOMAS DE WAAL
FROM TODAY’S WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
May 14, 2008

If you’re deep in the trenches, stop digging. Both Russia and Georgia darkly warned last week of the danger of war over the Black Sea territory of Abkhazia, but they both keep digging.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Moscow and Tbilisi have come “very close” to a military confrontation. Russia threatened Georgia, moving in an extra 500 troops to join the force it leads in Abkhazia. Formally peacekeepers under an international mandate, these troops not only keep the peace — on Russian terms — but strengthen Moscow’s grip over a region that is legally part of Georgia.

In Moscow, Georgia-baiting has now become a popular sport. Vladimir Putin dramatically stepped up his support for Abkhazia and hostility toward Georgia in the last two months of his presidency in what looked like an effort to lock his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, into a hard-line policy.

Mr. Saakashvili is also using the putative threat of Russian aggression for domestic political purposes and to call for Western support. His own standing has recently suffered after his crackdown on the opposition last November and a suspiciously wafer-thin re-election as president in January. His governing party is now facing a tough fight in parliamentary elections on May 21.

The talk I heard in Tbilisi 10 days ago was that some hotheads around the president are tempted to make a move on Abkhazia, perhaps as early as next week, to boost popular support for the president ahead of the elections. Wiser voices, such as that of Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, are warning that this would be a catastrophe.

Bullies of the Caucasus – WSJ.com

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