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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 May, 2005, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Q&A: Georgia-Russia tensions
BBC News examines the tensions between Georgia and Russia on the day US President George Bush told Georgians in Tbilisi that he supported their 18-month-old Rose Revolution.

What was the Rose Revolution?

Mass demonstrations in November 2003 forced veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze to resign as president after elections widely denounced as rigged.

Official results were not for three weeks after the election - the delay only added extra fuel to the opposition's protests.

On 23 November, pro-western leader Mikhail Saakashvili, holding a long-stemmed rose, burst into the parliament with his supporters.

Mr Shevardnadze and his bodyguards fled the building, and the transfer of power was achieved without bloodshed.

Mr Saakashvili was elected president by a landslide two months later.

Dozens of former government officials have since been jailed on corruption and embezzlement charges.

Why does President Bush's visit worry Russia?

Georgia's Rose Revolution was followed by similar processes in Ukraine (December 2004) and Kyrgyzstan (March 2005).

In each case entrenched Soviet-era officials were replaced by western-orientated democrats.

US President George W Bush and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in Tbilisi, 10 May 2005
President Bush's visit sealed the strong Georgia-US alliance
Many Russian officials, still stung by the collapse of the Soviet Union, accuse Washington of fomenting these velvet revolutions and undermining Moscow's influence in the region.

President Bush told a vast crowd in Tbilisi that "you gathered here armed with nothing but roses and the power of your convictions and you claimed your liberty".

He also stressed that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected" - a veiled criticism of Russia, which Georgia accuses of backing separatists in its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

What is Russia's link with the breakaway regions?

Georgia insists that Russia helped Abkhaz fighters pushed Georgian troops out of Abkhazia in late 1993, and many Georgian politicians accuse Moscow of imperial ambitions.

Russia denies directly supporting the rebels, but Abkhazia is now effectively a Russian protectorate. Locals have Russian passports and use Russian roubles.

A Russian border crossing and rail link have helped it survive a Georgian embargo.

In South Ossetia, pro-Russian separatists opposed to Tbilisi have strong ethnic and cultural ties with the Russian region of North Ossetia.

The South Ossetian rebels have not recognised Tbilisi's authority since Georgia won independence in 1991. Armed conflict flared up again in August 2004. Since then Mr Saakashvili has offered the rebels broad autonomy and urged Russia to help broker a lasting peace settlement.

Mr Bush offered Georgia help in resolving its disputes with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Is the Russian military a source of tension?

Yes. President Bush has thrown his weight behind President Saakashvili's demand that Russia withdraw from two military bases in Georgia housing about 3,000 troops. Mr Bush said he had discussed the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has said it could take up to four years to build accommodation to house the servicemen that would be withdrawn.

Mr Saakashvili boycotted Monday's World War II commemorations in Moscow in protest at Russia's continued military presence.

In addition to the long-running bases dispute, Russian officials have repeatedly accused Georgia of allowing Chechen separatists to shelter in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. In 2002, President Putin warned of military action if Georgia failed to deal with them.

But during his visit President Bush stressed the value of recent joint Georgian-Russian efforts to prevent the rebels crossing into Georgia.

Why does Georgia matter strategically?

Most of present-day Georgia became part of the Russian empire in 1801-04 and Russia has traditionally regarded the Caucasus as part of its sphere of influence.

Today Georgia is on the route for a US-backed pipeline linking Caspian Sea oilfields to world markets. US firms have invested huge capital in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

Russia is also keen to export Caspian oil and has two rival pipelines, one which crosses the North Caucasus and another which links Kazakhstan to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.

Timeline: Georgia
23 Feb 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Georgia
27 Apr 05 |  Country profiles
Europe trip buoys Bush
09 May 05 |  Europe

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