Well, it is official.
Russia announced earlier this week that it would be opening two new military bases in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia. The former Soviet vacation province has been under de-facto Russian control for about 15 years, but this summer's Russia-Georgia War allowed Moscow to reaffirm its authority over the region. In the conflict's aftermath, Abkhazia and South Ossetia both declared independence (again) and this time Russia (and Nicaragua) officially recognized the two "countries."
From the perspective of those who've been watching the Caucuses, there certainly seems to be an element of inevitability in this bit of news about the Russian bases. But it remains troubling news nonetheless. With Russia's intentions so boldly and officially declared to the world, it becomes even harder to view this summer's South Ossetian War as anything other than the well-planned and calculated Russian power grab that it was.
Meanwhile, down the road in Tbilisi--the Georgian capital city whose suburbs and hotels continue to house well over 100,000 ethnic Georgian refugees from conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia--President Mikhail "Misha" Saakashvili isn't exactly enjoying smooth sailing.
He just brought in his fifth prime minister in five years, 33-year-old boy wonder and former energy minister Nika Gilauri. After getting a modest bump in popularity during this summer's Russian occupation, the U.S. educated Saakashvili's poll numbers are down again. His approval rating is closing in on the nadir of 15 months ago, when the opposition coalition staged weeks of large scale protests in Tbilisi.
In November 2007, Saakashvili proclaimed on television that his opponents were in bed with Moscow before bringing out the army to violently disperse the protesters and shut down the opposition tv station. He then called for a questionable special election and won, reclaiming his Rose Revolution mandate.
I was there during the late 2007 protests. At the time I did not believe Saakashvili's accusations about Russian interests secretly backing his opposition, but the summer war and its aftermath have given me cause to reconsider.
Again, in Tbilisi the opposition is mounting. Saakashvili may not survive this time. With the announcement of these new Russian bases, Saakashvili's popular platform of Georgian reunification and NATO membership now seems less realistic than ever.
And I'm sure Moscow could not be happier.