Russia holds all the cards in Abkhazia

University of Texas Is Georgia teetering on the brink of civil war? Or will the status of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain an ambiguous frozen conflict? Either way, Russia wins. On Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry ratcheted up the pressure on Georgia by establishing legal ties with the two republics, which ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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593290_080418_georgia5.gif

University of Texas

Is Georgia teetering on the brink of civil war? Or will the status of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain an ambiguous frozen conflict? Either way, Russia wins.

On Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry ratcheted up the pressure on Georgia by establishing legal ties with the two republics, which have been quasi-independent entities since the early 1990s. Georgia's leaders are predictably apoplectic over what they see as a Russian annexation of one third of their territory. Putin claims he wants to take steps to improve relations with Georgia and has instructed his government to lift trade restrictions between the countries. These overtures haven't gone over that well either, though. The United States and European Union strongly criticized Russia's meddling in the breakaway regions, but the Georgians probably sense that Western onlookers aren't prepared to do much to back up their words.

University of Texas

Is Georgia teetering on the brink of civil war? Or will the status of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain an ambiguous frozen conflict? Either way, Russia wins.

On Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry ratcheted up the pressure on Georgia by establishing legal ties with the two republics, which have been quasi-independent entities since the early 1990s. Georgia’s leaders are predictably apoplectic over what they see as a Russian annexation of one third of their territory. Putin claims he wants to take steps to improve relations with Georgia and has instructed his government to lift trade restrictions between the countries. These overtures haven’t gone over that well either, though. The United States and European Union strongly criticized Russia’s meddling in the breakaway regions, but the Georgians probably sense that Western onlookers aren’t prepared to do much to back up their words.

Whatever happens, it’s likely to be good for Putin. If violence breaks out in the republics, it effectively scuttles Georgia’s bid to join NATO. If the stalemate persists and Georgia is forced to live with the new arrangement, it demonstrates Russia’s ability to impose its will on its neighbors without international consequences. In either scenario, Putin also gets to attack Western hypocrisy over the recognition of Kosovo.

I guess “lame duck” doesn’t really translate in Russian.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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