Georgia on Obama's mind?
It should be. The conflict that severely strained US-Russia ties still simmers – showing how hard it will be to repair relations.
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Tensions between Russia and that former Soviet republic are worsening. "Extensive fighting could erupt again," warns the International Crisis Group, a think tank.
It's been almost a year since Russia and Georgia were embroiled in fighting, with Russian tanks penetrating deep into Georgia's territory.
The August war focused on two Georgian separatist provinces that lie on Russia's southern border – South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But much bigger forces were at work, including democratic Georgia's aspiration to join NATO, its role as a transit country for Caspian Sea oil and gas, and Russia's intent to retain influence in its "near abroad."
A cease-fire brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy got the Russians to pull back from this small democratic nation. But Moscow has not lived up to the agreement. Troops have not returned to their pre-war levels or locations, as promised. In April, Moscow sent more forces into both provinces – which, after the invasion, it recognized as independent states.
Now Russia is drawing a curtain over its doings in the provinces, effectively kicking out international monitors so the world can't see what's happening.
Last month, Moscow vetoed the extension of a 130-strong United Nations monitoring force for Abkhazia. It has also prevented the extension of a 200-person observer team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that was meant to monitor South Ossetia. Both missions were established in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were to help enforce a cease-fire after South Ossetia and Abkhazia tried to break away from Georgia. The two observer missions are packing up this week.
All that's left is an unarmed group of 200 monitors in Georgia sent by the European Union as part of last summer's cease-fire. Their mission ends Oct. 1. Clearly, the EU must expand and extend its job.