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Georgian Leadership Faces Pressing Economic and Political Issues

The military conflict between Russia and Georgia over two breakaway regions has subsided, but tensions remain between Moscow and Tbili. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at the latest developments and issues facing the Georgian leadership in the months ahead.

Analysts agree the recent conflict between Georgia and Russia was sparked by Tbilisi when it sent troops August 7 in an effort to take control of Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russia, which had soldiers stationed in the region, responded massively by sending additional troops, tanks, and armored personnel carriers into Georgia.

South Ossetia, along with another region, Abkhazia, declared independence from Georgia in the mid 1990s. Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to bring both regions back into the fold.

Experts say the Georgian army was no match for Russian forces. It was quickly defeated, and on August 12 both sides agreed to a French-mediated ceasefire. Russian officials say their remaining troops will pull out of the Russian-declared security zones outside the two breakaway regions by mid October. But Russian troops will remain in the two enclaves.

On the political side, Moscow has recognized the independence of the two regions and has taken steps to establish full diplomatic relations with them.

Many experts, including Robert Legvold from Columbia University, say Georgian leaders face a daunting task in the months ahead.

"For Georgia in general, it is clear that the principal task now is to pick up the pieces, try to make sure that this does not lead to a major economic deterioration within the country, that investors are not spooked and leave, and the economic success that Georgia has known since 2004 is not reversed," said Legvold. "For the leadership itself, I think the concern is that those things be done, the country be rebuilt. I think they have to be very careful about how they rebuild their military, but certainly rebuild their infrastructure and restore the economy.

Legvold sees another major problem for the current Georgian leadership.

"It is likely, however angry and anti-Russian the Georgian population is today, that they will step back and say: 'Who got us into this? Who caused all of this? Why did the Saakashvili leadership lead us into this?' Saakashvili has to worry about the impact it will have on the viability of his own leadership," added Legvold.

Opposition political leaders in Georgia are already debating the wisdom of the conflict with Russia.

Georgian Republican Party leader David Usupashvili was quoted as saying the time has come to ask questions and to find the truth. And the leader of the New Rights Party, David Gamkrelidze, said Mr. Saakashvili's very aggressive policies helped Russia.

Many politicians and ordinary citizens are calling for a parliamentary inquiry to investigate what prompted the Russia-Georgian war.

University of Chicago Professor Ronald Suny says the Georgian leadership has a lot of soul-searching to do.

"Georgia has not been fortunate in its leaders. When you think back to [Zviad] Gamsakhurdia [President 1991-92] and now Saakashvili taking these kinds of rash actions, or the declining powers even of [Eduard] Shevardnadze [President 1995-2003] - this little country, such a wonderful country, has been burdened with, at this point, a very impulsive leader who launched this crisis despite his own disclaimers and despite some of the misrepresentations in the western press," said Suny. "This was a crisis that Georgia actually launched and they are paying a terrible price: refugees, people killed, millions of dollars of damage, a weakened state. And they are still playing, at least the government in its rhetoric in Georgia, a rather aggressive game at the rhetorical level. There is not much it can do. It is now completely reliant on the United States and the West to pull its chestnuts out of the fire."

The United States has already offered $1 billion in humanitarian and economic assistance to Tbilisi to help rebuild Georgia. The new aid package still needs to be approved by Congress. The European Union has also said it will provide aid.