Georgia: Russia wants war over Abkhazia

Russian reinforcements in Abkhazia has Georgia warning of a war in the Caucasus. Putin has ordered at least 1200 more troops into the restive and disputed province of the former Soviet republic, and the move has Tbilisi on alert for military action:

Georgia is “very close” to a war with Russia, a Georgian minister said on Tuesday, citing Moscow’s decision to send extra troops to the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

“We literally have to avert war,” Georgian State Minister for Issues of Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili told a news briefing during a trip to Brussels.

Asked how close to such a war the situation was, he replied: “Very close, because we know Russians very well. We know what the signals are when you see propaganda waged against Georgia. We see Russian troops entering our territories on the basis of false information,” he said.

Russia and Georgia have played at brinksmanship for quite a while, and while neither of them would benefit from a war, the tussle over Abkhazia might inadvertently set one in motion. Abkhazia is actually a secondary issue for Russia, although not a false premise for their policy. They see Abkhazia as within their sphere of influence, but Putin really wants an end to NATO expansion at the expense of Russia.

A war in Georgia could set energy prices skyrocketing. The Caucasus is an oil-producing region, and Georgia serves as a transit route for Russian exports, similar to Belarus and Ukraine. That puts pressure on the West to find ways to resolve the standoff and to prevent war. Europe especially cannot afford to lose its energy imports from Russia, and if they did, the increased demand on other exporters would create a huge spike in prices.

Both Moscow and Tbilisi are playing hardball over Russian attempts to keep Georgia within its political orbit. It demonstrates that the collapse of the Soviet Union unleashed consequences that have not yet fully played out, and that the “end of history” was anything but. If Putin and his hardliners insist on maintaining a quasi-empire in the breakaway republics, and if the West continues to counter those impulses, a flash point seems almost inevitable.