Approximately twenty helicopter-borne assault troops landed yesterday in the remote Marukhi Pass on the border between the Republic of Georgia and the breakaway Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. The allegedly Abkhaz commandos, who arrived in an unmarked helicopter, engaged in an intense firefight with Georgian border troops before withdrawing. The assault was followed by an artillery barrage on Georgian villages in the Kodori Gorge from the Abkhaz side of the border.
Officials from Georgia and from the pro-Georgian Abkhaz government blamed the raid on separatist agitators attempting to wreck the peace process and to forestall the scheduled withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping forces. Other sources claim the attack was against heavily-armed Georgian commandos, who have allegedly set up bases in the rugged mountains from which they launch raids on Abkhaz villages.
While the Georgians blame the Abkhaz, and the Abkhaz blame the Georgians, we would like to suggest another possible candidate—the Russians. Russian-brokered peace talks have been progressing well, and the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Georgia ends on July 31. However, given Russia's tenuous grip on the Caucasus, Moscow may be willing to sacrifice peace for presence. If Chechen claims are to be believed, Moscow is not a stranger to instigating unrest that demands Russian attention.
Moscow has been reasserting itself in the Caucasus recently. It has aggressively pursued improved relations with Azerbaijan, while allegedly arming Armenia. Russia has also been building a case for a return to Chechnya. With it's former European empire slipping into NATO, Moscow is racing against countries like Iran and Turkey—whose president will be visiting Georgia in a few days time—to regain and retain control of the Caucasus. We believe that, for Moscow, a little border war is not that high of a price to pay to maintain a grip on Caucasian pipelines.