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If Russia's leaving, S. Ossetia town asks: Why build a new road?

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In recent weeks, Russian and South Ossetian soldiers have started to use the dirt road, which requires four wheel-drive vehicles and is impassable in winter.

Russia is building the road because it and South Ossetia's separatist government aren't going to withdraw, says Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.

Losing the Akhalgori region would be catastrophic for Georgia, because the capital, Tbilisi, is so close, he says. "They can come from Akhalgori with tanks on the highway into Tbilisi in half an hour," Mr. Rondeli says.

If Russia plans to leave by the Oct. 10 deadline, there is no reason to start the road work, which is likely to take several months to complete, says an official in Georgia's Interior Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly discuss this issue.

Moscow plans to stay to back up South Ossetia's claim of independence, which only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized, he says.

"If Russia controls all of South Ossetia it will be easier to call for its independence. The region [of Akhalgori] is otherwise fully connected with the rest of Georgia," he notes.

"It's a very small district, which probably nobody had heard of before, that is now part of a big game," the official says.

The EU is confident Russia will honor the cease-fire agreement and withdraw, says Juri Laas, the interim spokesman for the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.

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