Russia, the backer of the separatists and their potential protector in war, has been presenting an array of mixed signals for [Georgian President] Saakashvili to interpret, meeting warmly with the Georgians at the top level while members of the Russian Parliament and military officers have made inflammatory remarks.

Mr. Saakashvili said that Russia’s position would be critical to finding the way toward reunifying the country, but that efforts at substantive dialogue had been met with delay. He said he had asked the Russians to provide a list of their concerns but had received no response.

“I don’t even know with what we are dealing,” he said. “What are the issues?”

Richard M. Miles, the American ambassador to Georgia, said in an interview last week that the United States had urged the potential combatants to disengage militarily and work toward negotiations. Washington has been Georgia’s patron, funneling it $1.2 billion in aid in the past decade. With the possibility of conflict, the players here have been trying to judge Washington’s stance.

The Abkhazian government’s hardened language speaks of the official calculation to date: Washington will back the young Georgian president only so far. “I don’t think American soldiers would fight for Georgia’s unity,” said Mr. Ashuba, the Abkhazian legislator. ~ New York Times, August 17, 2004

Needless to say, any direct American involvement in this conflict would be unwise in the extreme. It rests with the government of Russian President Putin to demonstrate that it is capable of exercising its influence over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a responsible way that would respect the autonomy of these territories and avoid recourse to violence. The belligerent Mr. Saakashvili has already revealed that he is unsuited to the role of unifying Georgia, and he appears to believe that he has much more to gain in terms of American support if he maintains his hard anti-Russian stance.

President Putin has an opportunity to help calm tensions and reconcile the two Orthodox peoples of Russia and Georgia, which is undoubtedly in the interest of the Georgian people. It is clear that the current American administration is committed only to further meddling in the Caucasus through its cat’s paw in Saakashvili and cannot be considered a credible advocate for a peaceful resolution of this situation.