Tomorrow, there may well be riots in Georgia. Large, thumping riots. Reports suggest that tens of thousands of anti-government protesters have already descend upon Tbilisi to demand the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The Georgian government and the Georgian Orthodox church are appealing for calm, and Georgia’s interior minister insists that police will show “maximum tolerance”– a somewhat menacing phrase–toward the protesters. But things look very likely to turn ugly. Saakashvili, for all the respect he commands among western politicians as a knight in shining democratic armor, seems to be increasingly despised by his people. And after his clumsy and stubborn handling of the humiliating war with Russia last year, Georgians are anxious to see him gone.
The key question is: If the unrest Tbilisi spills out of control, what would Russia do? Might the Kremlin, which despises Saakashvili, attempt to intervene? How then would Obama, who last year condemned Russia’s attack on Georgian forces over South Ossetia and Abkhazia as “unacceptable,” respond? Perhaps the first great test of the new administration’s diplomatic adroitness might come not from the Middle East or even the “Af-Pak” region, but from the Caucasus?
This is pure speculation, and who knows? But we can be almost sure that this story is going to develop–if not tomorrow, then someday soon.