The presidents of both Georgia and Poland heard gunfire as their motorcade approached the disputed province of South Ossetia, nominally Georgian territory.  Russia denied firing on the motorcade, but their foreign minister accused Mikhail Saakashvili of a “provocation” by driving close to the border:

Russia denied its troops fired on a motorcade carrying Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his Polish counterpart near the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

“There was no shooting from our positions or from the position of the South Ossetia troops,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters late yesterday in Peru’s capital, Lima. …

As the presidents’ vehicles approached a checkpoint outside the disputed South Ossetian town of Akhalgori, gunshots were fired, she said. No one was injured in the shooting and the motorcade headed back to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The entire incident was a “provocation,” said Lavrov, who was in Lima for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

“When the president is being invited for some celebration in Tbilisi and they put him in a car and take him to a different state, this is a true provocation,” he said.

Russia recognized South Ossetia’s independence following the Russian invasion of Georgia in August, but they are the only nation to do so.  All other nations recognize Georgian sovereignty over both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which means Saakashvili has every right to enter the state.  Even if that right is somehow under dispute, his approach to the checkpoint should not have been greeted with gunfire.

Moscow appears to want a new war with Georgia, having had its ambitions in the first skirmish left unrealized.  However, circumstances have changed significantly since August.  The price of oil has tumbled by two-thirds since its summer peak of $147 per barrel, and the Russian economy has all but collapsed with it.  They can’t afford to spend billions of rubles on another military adventure, and they can’t afford to further antagonize the Western industrial nations.

In the summer, they had Europe over a barrel (of oil).  Now that power differential has reversed somewhat, and Russia needs European assistance to survive.  And Europe may not be all that interested in assisting Vladimir Putin with his czarist ambitions, especially when Russia shoots at the president of an EU nation.  Expect the eastern European nations to become especially cold to Putin, Medvedev, and the Russian calls for assistance.

Tags: Georgia