The Americans and the Russians have long sparred for influence over Georgia. For the United States, Georgia's strategic value is in the black crude to be transported in a Caspian-to-Mediterranean pipeline now under construction, as well as the bragging rights in becoming big brother to a formerly Soviet state. NATO officials announced this month that Georgia is being considered for eventual admission into alliance membership.
But Georgia's most dangerous and fraught relationship is with neighboring Russia, which has over the past 10 years alternately indulged and punished -- but mostly punished -- its weaker neighbor. Russia's interest in Georgia is complex, said Alex Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi, involving interwoven compacts with neighboring states, a postimperial impulse to control its backyard and an emotional relationship with a people Russians consider both historical vassal and a reflection of Russia's own cultural aspirations.
Since taking office, Saakashvili has hugged Russia close, as a boxer does to prevent an opponent from being able to throw a punch. Saakashvili has publicly praised Putin's involvement in Georgia without giving Russia any real concessions over outstanding policy disagreements. The strategy has apparently kept Putin from intervening in Georgian affairs for now, but many experts say that Russia will in return make heavy demands on Saakashvili behind the scenes. As Rondeli said, ''The question for Misha is not whether he can get what he wants from Russia but what very high price he's willing to pay.''
Georgia's political development in the coming years could prove to be vital for other nations and regional economy too. Saakashvili's new government after defeating the previous corrupted government run by Shevardnadze through a popular revolt in November of 2003, is facing an uphill challenge in fighting widespread corruption and lack of rules of law. However, slowly, it seems that Georgia is turning toward a better future. Things to observe are the regional pressure imposed on Georgia by Putin's Russia and American oil interests in the area.