Along with Transdniestria, a rebel Slavic republic in Moldova, these little pieces of post-Soviet unfinished business were tagged "frozen conflicts" because it seemed unlikely that any big country, even Russia, would ever recognize their de facto independence.
But dramatic geopolitical changes are threatening a return to hot war, this time with an oil-rich, stronger Russia standing unambiguously behind the separatist territories.
After many Western countries recognized the former Serbian territory of Kosovo earlier this year, despite Moscow's angry opposition, Russia eased its 14-year-old economic embargo on Abkhazia and the State Duma passed a resolution demanding full recognition. The prospect of NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine – a question that was postponed at NATO's Bucharest summit in April – has prompted Moscow to crank up its rhetoric against Georgia and send construction troops, not covered by the 1994 agreement, into Abkhazia. Those troops were tasked with reopening a dormant railroad link that runs from Rostov, Russia, through Sochi to Sukhumi, and would be crucial for supplying troops in the event of a conflict.