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Medvedev's test case with the West

Russia's new president inherits a tinderbox in Georgia, a NATO aspirant.

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Before he became Russia's president last week, Dmitry Medvedev came across as less edgy than Vladimir Putin when talking about the West. Some Kremlin watchers thought this might mean a spring thaw in relations with the US and Europe. Now there's a case to test this theory.

It's on Russia's southern border, in a region as ethnically charged as the Balkans. There, American friend and NATO aspirant Georgia says it's on the brink of war with Russia. The immediate cause of the tension is – what else? – ethnic nationalism and desires for independence in two regions in Georgia.

Last month, then-President Putin seriously escalated the tension by essentially recognizing Georgia's two separatist-minded areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The two have significant Russian populations and have been heavily influenced by Russia ever since they tried and failed to split in armed conflict from Georgia after the Soviet breakup in 1991.

Also last month, according to Georgia, a Russian fighter jet shot down an unmanned Georgian spy drone over Abkhazia. Moscow denied it and a few days later – without consulting Georgia – sent more Russian "peacekeepers" into Abkhazia, which is still part of Georgia's sovereign territory. Russia accuses Georgia of secretly massing troops for an invasion of Abkhazia.

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