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A simmering crisis as Saakashvili meets Russian president

By M. Alkhazashvili
Thursday, June 5
Tbilisi and Moscow no longer share a common language. What the Kremlin calls humanitarian aid, Georgia—and an attentive international community—calls barely-disguised aggression.

What lies between Georgia and Russia is a simmering crisis set off by the Kremlin’s decision to formalize links with the separatist regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, lift the embargo on Abkhazia and send more troops to the regions to menace Georgia.

For Russia, this is all in the name of altruism. Its military engineers are now patching up railway bridges in Abkhazia; this is so the locals have better infrastructure and sounder lives, Russia says.

But this is no humanitarian aid. Extending railroads into neighboring countries, over their strenuous objections, can only be seen as preparing for an invasion.

Russian aggression against Georgia has moved forward, steady and barefaced, since the recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February, and even faster after NATO kept Georgia at arm’s length by withholding a membership action plan in April.

This simmering crisis will underlie the first meeting of President Saakashvili and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev at the end of this week.

While officials are publicly hopeful of turning over a new leaf with Russia’s putative new management, no major breakthroughs are expected.

Yet a face-to-face meeting of heads of state shows this crisis is not insurmountable. With luck, their brief introduction in St Petersburg will lay the groundwork for a common language between Tbilisi and Moscow in the weeks and months to come. It is needed.