Moscow and Tbilisi are still officially at war a year and a half after Russian troops rolled into the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and declared them independent. But quietly, with minimal fanfare on both sides, peace is breaking out. A crucial border crossing opened last month, direct flights have recommenced, and Russia has begun issuing more visas to Georgian nationals.
The reason for this sudden warming of relations? In large part it's the Olympic spirit of peace--or, at least, Russia's fervent desire to make the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi a trouble-free success. With the Olympic banner now passed from Canada to Russia, the Kremlin wants to do everything possible to ensure that there won't be any more flare-ups over Abkhazia, just 60 kilometers away from Sochi. That means smoothing differences with Georgia and giving Tbilisi an economic stake in keeping the peace by allowing cross-border trade, once a mainstay of the Georgian economy. Opening the border also helps Russia's main Caucasian ally, Armenia, whose only road access to Russia is via Georgia and which found itself also blockaded by default.
No less of a concern is the prospect of terror attacks from the North Caucasus, also in Sochi's neighborhood. Last week, in the wake of a spate of suicide bombings in Moscow and Dagestan, the International Olympic Committee expressed confidence that Russia would be able to make the Games secure. But to do that, President Dmitry Medvedev has to pacify not only his empire's most restive corner but the whole explosive neighborhood as well.