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War threat in Russia’s backyard

War clouds are gathering in this border region, as Russia beefs up its peacekeeping forces to help defend the separatist statelet of Abkhazia, reports Fred Weir.

world Updated: Jun 25, 2008 01:20 IST
Fred Weir

War clouds are gathering in this border region, as Russia beefs up its peacekeeping forces to help defend the separatist statelet of Abkhazia against an expected attack by the US-trained forces of Georgia.

Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgia in 1993, has its own flag, army, national anthem and president. But, perhaps tellingly, most people here carry Russian passports and the little statelet's borders are shielded by Moscow's forces.

Georgia has never accepted Abkhazia's secession. Its president, Mikhael Saakashvili, is pressing for his country to join the Western military alliance NATO, and recently concentrated Georgian troops in the nearby Kodori gorge amid rhetoric about “reunifying the country”.

“Everyone is concerned about what might happen tomorrow,” says Ruslan Kishmaria, the Abkhaz presidential envoy who oversees the increasingly tense Gali district, where about 3,000 grim-faced Russian troops are all that stands between the Georgian army and the forces of insurgent Abkhazia.

“If a new war begins, it will likely start right here."