A Roller Coaster Month for Georgia and Russia

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is a city that brings to mind three images: hospitality, khachapuri (a delicious cheese-filled heart attack encased in dough), and George W. Bush, whose larger-than-life visage graced the surface of numerous billboards on the stretch of road that linked the airport to the city in August 2005.

The billboards went up after Bush visited Georgia in May 2005, and not long after that, this main drag officially became "George W. Bush Street." Cab drivers got a kick out of pointing to the billboards and giving Americans smiles -- the type people give each other to acknowledge some unspoken idea. At first glance, it seems absurd that a country -- from its own president, Mikhail Saakashvili, down to its cab drivers -- could get so excited about a presidential visit. However, to most Georgians, Bush's visit in May signified more than a diplomatic formality; the visit legitimized the sovereignty of this small mountainous nation that continues to struggle against what many Georgians describe as Russian hegemony.

The Georgian-American relationship grew even stronger in the weeks preceding the 2006 G8 summit in Russia. This time, Bush invited Saakashvili to the White House to discuss energy, Georgia's NATO aspirations and the integrity of Georgian borders. However, while relations between the United States and Georgia grew better, the relations between Moscow and Tbilisi grew worse.

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