In August, the Georgian navy seized a Turkish tanker carrying fuel to Abkhazia, Georgia's former province whose declaration of independence a year ago is recognized by Russia but not the West.
The Turkish captain was sentenced to 24 years. When Ankara protested, he was released. Abkhazia has now threatened to sink any Georgian ship interfering in its "territorial waters," but it has no navy.
Russia, however, has a Black Sea Fleet and a treaty of friendship with Abkhazia, and has notified Tbilisi that the Russian coast guard will assure, peacefully, the sea commerce of Abkhazia.
Not backing down, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili -- who launched and lost a war for South Ossetia in 48 hours in August 2008 -- has declared the blockade of Abkhazia, which he claims as Georgian national territory, will remain in force. And he has just appointed as defense minister a 29-year-old ex-penitentiary boss with a questionable record on human rights who wants to tighten ties to NATO.
We have here the makings of a naval clash that Georgia, given Russian air, naval and land forces in the eastern Black Sea, will lose.
What is Saakashvili up to? He seems intent on provoking a new crisis to force NATO to stand with him and bring the United States in on his side -- against Russia. Ultimate goal: Return the issue of his lost provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia back onto the world's front burner.
While such a crisis may be in the interests of Saakashvili and his Russophobic U.S neoconservative retainers, it is the furthest thing from U.S. national interests. President Obama should have Joe Biden, Saakashvili's pal, phone him up and instruct him thus:
"Mikheil, if you interfere with the sea commerce of Abkhazia, and provoke Russia into a Black Sea war, you fight it yourself. The Sixth Fleet is not going to steam into the Black Sea and pull your chestnuts out of the fire, old buddy. It will be your war, not ours."
Nor is the Abkhazian crisis the only one brewing in the Black Sea.
Last month, Russian naval troops blocked Ukrainian bailiffs from seizing navigational equipment from a lighthouse outside Sevastopol, the Crimean base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet for two centuries.
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