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U.S. intelligence calls Caucasus "flashpoint" for conflict

By Ernest Petrosyan
Friday, February 3
The unresolved conflicts in the Caucuses still represent “the most likely flashpoints” in the Eurasian region, reads a U.S. intelligence Worldwide Threat Assessment report to Congress, presented Tuesday by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.

“Moscow’s occupation and military presence in, and expanded political-economic ties to, Georgia’s separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia account for some of the tensions,” reads the report.

“Tbilisi charged Russia with complicity in a series of bombings in Georgia in 2010 and 2011, while the Kremlin has been suspicious about Georgian engagement with ethnic groups in Russia’s North Caucasus,” it notes.

As for Georgia’s internal politics, the report highlights the new constitution, which will go into force in late 2013, as it “strengthens the office of the Prime Minister after the 2013 presidential election, leading some to expect that President Saakashvili may seek to stay in power by serving as Prime Minister, which could impact the prospect for reducing tensions".

Georgian analyst Irakli Sesiashvili believes that if Saakashvili stays in power it will be even worse than “Putinization”. “Saakashvili illegally adopted a constitution in his favor. [As Prime Minister] he will remain de-facto president with the same power he has now. This will indeed be assessed as a usurpation of power by the Georgian population and international community".

According to analyst Nika Chitadze, this scenario is unlikely. While Saakashvili is constitutionally eligible to stay in power as Prime Minister due to the recent constitutional amendments, “as far as I know he does not have such intentions,” he stated. Chitadze believes that tense relations with Russia will continue regardless of President Saakashvili’s position in the new government.