Friday, July 14, 2006

Sochi's road to greatness

The U.S. hosted the Winter Olympics a few years back, so can Russia be far behind? Last week Moscow backed Sochi's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

So what is Sochi? I have no clue.

A Wikipedia visit revealed an amazing factoid: It's the second largest city in the world at 147 km, second to Honolulu. Honolulu the hugest city in the world?. Unbelievable!

Sochi's a resort where the Caucusus mountains meet the Black Sea, on the southern Russian border in Krasnodar Krai. (Russian borders are shaped weird, so the term "southern Russian border" is as vague as a Bush-ism.) Reading Krasnodar Krai was alarming, I took out my maps right away.

Just one glance at Sochi's geographic location to shout: "Aah, now this is *very* interesting!"

Sochi is *very* close to Georgian province of Abkhazia, which has been waging a war to breakaway from Georgia -- through militancy and diplomacy -- for years. Long story short, Russia wants Abkhazia, and its funding the rebels' small independence effort from Georgia.

Russia isn't shy about their desire to get Abkhazia, which isn't doing much for Georgia and won't do much for Russia than bring political problems. Technically, Russians insist they want to bring Abkhazians independence they've been fighting for, but the Georgians feel bullied.

With mininal power, Georgia has been resisting Russia's eye on Abkhazia for about 13 years now. It's also losing its control on Abkhazia with each passing day.

The desire for independence drove the Abkhaz people into a conflict with the Georgians in the early 90s. It was a brutal war - millions fled, many died. The CIS, and Russia, sent in peacekeepers, and the war turned into an independence struggle.

Unofficially, Russia supplied Abkhazian rebels with arms to counter the Georgians. As Georgia's control over the Abkhazia faded, Russia's increased. Now Russia literally controls the autonomous region, leading to massive tension between the two countries.

Trying to save every bit of land, the Georgians are telling the UN and world that the Russians have no business meddling in its internal affairs.

The UN recognizes Abkhazia as a Georgian province, not an independent state. Russia wants the UN to convince the Georgians to conduct an independence referendum in Abkhazia.

Technically, Abkhazia is considered a danger zone by the U.S. State Department, unless a person is Mad Max. The U.S. supports Georgia, unsurprisingly.

Sochi doesn't seem like a dangerous place, being a biosphere reserve and all. But, it is close to Abkhazia, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will certainly raise that as a concern for the 2014 Winter Olympics. It'll be up to Russia to put on the best face and convince the IOC that it is safe.

On the other hand, let's hope the world's most candid conflict ends. After Montenegro, I have a very strong feeling that Abkhazia could be the next country added to the world map. Russia is crushing Georgia on this one.


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