Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tensions rising between Russia and Georgia, again

There's more saber rattling coming out of the southeastern corner of Europe.

On Tuesday Russian announced it would be sending more peacekeeping troops into Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a move that has Georgia furious.

It’s the latest chapter in the long-running drama between Russia and Georgia over these two regions. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia fought brief wars for independence against Georgia in the early 1990s. Each war ended in a cease-fire, with Russia sending in troops to act as peacekeepers. Abkhazia and South Ossetia both declared their independence long ago, but no countries, not even Russia, has recognized their claim.

This has not kept Russia from playing a role in their affairs though. Russia has issued passports to most of the residents of Abkhazia (another reason they say their peacekeepers are needed, to protect their passport-holders) and is the region's main trading partner.

In reality the dispute has little to do with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and a lot to do with the state of Russian-Georgian relations.

Georgia is desperately trying to strengthen its relationship with the west, and with the United States in particular. Georgia's main goal now is to become a member of NATO, a move Russia is bitterly opposed to. In response to Russia's increase of troops in the area, Georgia has cut off talks over Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, something that Russia desperately wants. Russia is the largest country not in the WTO, but under the rules of the organization any member state can block the entry of a country into the WTO, and Georgia is already a WTO member.

Russia said that their troop buildup came in response to Georgia moving their own troops to the Georgia-Abkhazia border. While its still a little difficult to believe that Russia and Georgia would actually go to war, the problem in situations like these is that when two countries start talking angrily and lining their troops up along their borders, a small misunderstanding can quickly turn into something much worse.
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