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Sensing an effete NATO, Russia moves on Georgia

By M. Alkhazashvili
(Translated by Diana Dundua)
Thursday, April 17

Moscow announced its intention to increase ties with Georgia’s breakaway republics yesterday, prompting an inevitable outcry from Tbilisi.

The move ostensibly has the interests of the local population in mind, and the Kremlin says it is protecting its own citizens (most residents in the Abkhaz region are thought to hold Russian passports).

But it is a clearly aggressive step in Russia’s policy of “creeping annexation.”

The Kremlin’s statement makes no mention of formerly recognizing the regions, nor of opening official diplomatic representation there. However, the reference to the de facto authorities as “actual bodies of power” and the nature of the action itself is enough to cause anger in Tbilisi.

While de facto officials savored the moment—Abkhaz de facto foreign minister Sergey Shamba said they were now on the home straight to recognition—Moscow is looking at the bigger picture.

The uncertainty that NATO member states displayed over Georgia and Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance at the Bucharest summit earlier this month gave Russia leeway to huff and puff in response to Western recognition of Kosovo in February, encroaching southwards into the Caucasus all the while.

Instead of inviting the pair to enter the next stage of integration into the alliance, as Kiev and Tbilisi had hoped, Germany nixed the idea and warned against letting in conflict-riddled states—signaling Russia that it could keep Georgia out of NATO by rendering the separatist conflicts intractable.

“[Georgia] cannot do anything,” the newspaper 24 Saati quoted Russian analyst Alan Kasaev as saying, “Let’s see what it achieves when it asks for support from its Western friends.”

Like the small schoolboy whose bigger friends aren’t around, Georgia currently faces the Russian bully who knows that—for the moment—he can get some teasing in for free.