Yesterday’s report of a Russian naval nase to be built in Abkhazia is being greeted with displeasure by NATO,  Reuters reports:

Representatives of the 26 NATO states discussed the issue on Wednesday and alliance Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will raise it with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov in February, spokesman James Appathurai said.

” NATO allies have made their position clear on Georgia’s territorial integrity and that includes all of Georgia’s recognized borders,” he said.   “They have seen the press reports suggesting Russia might build bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and they view them with concern.”

It’s far from obvious, however, what the Alliance can feasibly do about it.   These territories are, like it or not, for all intents and purposes no longer part of Georgia.  Whether they are “independent” or a Russian suzerainty is debatable; that Tbilisi exercises no control over them is not.

If that wasn’t obvious before now, this report from Radio Free Europe would seem to confirm it: “Georgia Agrees To Restrict Troops On Abkhaz, South Ossetia Borders “

The Georgian Defense Ministry and the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) have signed a memorandum that restricts Georgian troop movements along the borders with its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. EUMM sources say it is hoped that Russia will do the same in the near future.

So . . . the country with ostensible sovereignty over the territories has agreed not to exercise said sovereignty in hopes that an outside party might reciprocate?  Right.

NATO could not muster the political will to stop Russia’s invasion in August and there’s no evidence that anything has changed now that their presence is a fait accompli.   If anything, Russia holds a stronger hand now than ever.  As an AP report adds,

Appathurai also said that preparations for the opening of a new supply route through Russia to bring provisions to the 62,000 NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan were proceeding well. Although 80 percent of logistic supplies for the Western force are currently trucked in through Pakistan, recent insurgent attacks there have raised concerns about the long-term viability of that route.

“Russia’s position on providing land transit for non-lethal military supplies to (NATO) has been consistent, and that is that it thinks it is a good idea,” Appathurai said. “Russia has maintained that offer because Russia is concerned — as we all are — that extremism can spread very quickly from this region,” he said.  “They have an interest in our success and they have not hidden that, and that’s why they want to help facilitate it.”

Will the Alliance jeopardize its mission in Afghanistan to stand up for the principle that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognized by the international community as part of Georgia?  Or will we continue paying lip service to the idea while living with the reality?  My bet’s on the latter.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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