Tbilisi Blues

Courtesy Reuters

Since taking office in January, President Mikheil Saakashvili has made the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity his top priority. His initial moves were remarkably successful. Aslan Abashidze, the strongman who had long controlled the autonomous province of Adjaria, stepped down under pressure from the central government. He fled to Russia, leaving the province and its important Black Sea port of Batumi once again under Tbilisi's direct control.

Emboldened by the success in Adjaria, Saakashvili next moved against South Ossetia, the region in north-central Georgia which has effectively existed as an independent state for more than a decade. Saakashvili ordered Georgian police and interior ministry forces to close down one of the region's chief sources of revenue, a vast black market complex which sold foodstuffs and fuel smuggled from Russia. In response, South Ossetia's leadership upped the ante by announcing preparations to defend their unrecognized republic against a supposed Georgian invasion.

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