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Post-Soviet 'frozen conflicts' heat up as big-power interests collide

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Peering over the half-mile-long bridge that separates Abkhazia from the Georgian town of Zugdidi, Ruslan, a burly Abkhaz border guard, says he helped to drive the fleeing Georgian Army across that bridge 15 years ago and expects to see them – now trained and equipped by the US – attempt a return any day now. "We will never agree to be part of Georgia again," he says. "I intend to live as an Abkhazian in a free country, and I'll fight for as long as it takes."

Most of the world breathed a sigh of relief when the USSR's collapse did not bring vast Yugoslavia-like upheavals, and cheerful scenarios seemed to be borne out when the former Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined the European Union and the NATO alliance in 2004.

Little-noticed wars

Amid the hopeful 1990s, few people noticed the savage wars of secession that rocked the Caucasus region, leading to the emergence of fiercely pro-Moscow statelets like Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakh in Azerbaijan.

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