Since a Russian veto in the United Nations Security Council barred UN troops from patrolling in Abkhazia, and since the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), yielding to pressure from the Russians, abandoned its missions in Georgia proper, Abkhazia and Ossetia, the EU has been providing the only international observers in the crisis-stricken region. The EU contingent patrolling the 170-kilometer Georgian border with Abkhazia consists of 69 men from 13 nations, including 22 Germans.
Carsten Frommann, a blonde senior police detective from the eastern German city of Dessau who has already served in Sudan, gives the order for the convoy to continue along its route. "In case of frontal attack, all vehicles are to drive in reverse, in case of an attack at the center, the vehicles at the front should move forward and the ones at the back should move backward," he recommends, before the group reaches the "dirty triangle," a few square kilometers along the border zone where smugglers have been causing trouble lately.
Since June, the EU observers have referred to the area as the "bloody triangle." In one incident, a mine exploded, killing the driver of the mission's ambulance. But everything is going smoothly today, with the exception of a small incident in Paluri, a village of 1,000 inhabitants, where an angry crowd forces the convoy to come to a standstill. The villagers have been without electricity for one-and-a-half months. "There are those here who would like us to be in charge," says Wolfram Hoffmann, a retired colonel in the German military, the Bundeswehr.
Just past the Georgian border crossing, along the Inguri River, there is a large billboard depicting a likeness of Georgian President Saakashvili, wearing a pinstriped suit and a red tie, and the slogan: "We are Uniting Georgia." Saakashvili, who came to power in Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003, has reinvigorated the Georgian economy through privatization and with the help of foreign aid money.
He has built roads, curbed police corruption and ensured a relatively reliable supply of power, water and gas. But none of this counts at the moment. Since his attempt to reintegrate South Ossetia by force failed, his opponents have taken to calling him "Mikheil the Destroyer." Nevertheless, his decline in popularity has not brought him down yet -- despite Moscow's fervent hopes that it would -- because the West continues to support him and the opposition is deeply divided.
What has Russia gained from the 2008 war in Georgia? It has secured control over two small pieces of territory in the southern Caucasus, with a combined land area slightly larger than Jamaica and recognized only by Nicaragua. Much of the remaining southern Caucasus, with its natural resources and energy corridors, is choosing its own path, while lawlessness in the northern Caucasus becomes more and more pervasive by the day. "The Kremlin hasn't the slightest idea what to do next in this region," says Moscow political scientist Malashenko.