Four days before the anniversary of Georgia's 2008 war with Russia, a flurry of phantom attacks along the border between Georgian-controlled territory and separatist South Ossetia is stoking concerns in Tbilisi about the possibility of renewed conflict.
As in early August and late July 2008, Georgia and Russia now swap nearly daily reports about alleged incidents on the South Ossetia border and blame each other for the reported violence.
In the latest such exchange, on August 4, Georgia's Interior Ministry claimed that two hand grenades were thrown late on August 3 at a police post in the Georgian village of Plavismani. No one was injured, according to the ministry.
South Ossetia, meanwhile, asserts that it was the South Ossetian village of Ortev that came under a volley of mortar fire on August 3 from the direction of Plavismani.
Against such a backdrop and charges and counter-charges, some analysts believe the chances for another war are running high. Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian defense analyst and columnist for Novaya Gazeta who predicted the 2008 war with Russia, told Georgia's Interpressnews agency on August 3 that recent incidents indicate that there is an "80 percent" chance of fresh conflict.
"[The incidents] indicate that it may come to a war in the matter of days," Felgenhauer was quoted by Interpressnews as saying. Felgenhauer believes that Russia is trying to finish off last year's alleged task -- to redraw the map of the South Caucasus, subdue the defiantly pro-Western Georgia and secure an overland route to its regional ally, Armenia.
One Tbilisi analyst agrees. "Russia is testing international reactions before it proceeds with its plans in Georgia," said Andro Barnov, head of the Institute for Strategy and Development.
What Georgia calls a recent Russian attempt at a land grab has helped to fuel that sense of unease in Tbilisi.
On August 1, the Georgian Interior Ministry charged that Russian servicemen showed up in the Georgian village of Kveshi, not far from South Ossetia, and marked off a border line by driving metal poles into the ground; effectively partitioning the ethnically Georgian village into two halves.
Government officials could not be reached to clarify who had sounded the alarm and whether or not there had been any villager attempt at resistance. The pro-government Rustavi-2 television station later reported that the poles had been taken to another nearby village.
On August 3, Georgia's Foreign Ministry claimed that the markings had been removed after protests from Tbilisi. The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), the only international monitors left in the area received assurances from Russia that Moscow had no intention of shifting the border. The EUMM said that it has seen no evidence suggesting any such attempt by Russia.
One resident of Kveshi, however, told EurasiaNet that she witnessed a group of Russian soldiers planting the poles in her home village. "We were coming back from a funeral, over on the Ossetian side and we encountered Russian soldiers in the middle of our village," said the woman, who requested anonymity to preserve her ability to visit family in South Ossetia.
"They held us up, they were not rude or anything, and when we explained that we were from this village they let us pass through."
The EUMM said there is "quite a bit of movement" across the porous border between breakaway South Ossetia and Georgia proper. The resident agreed, saying that Georgian villagers take their cattle to pastures controlled by Russian border guards. She referred to the Russian troops as "Vanyas," a somewhat derisive term. "Vanya" is a diminutive name for "Ivan."
"If the Vanyas are not running around in their tanks or what have you, then we always send livestock over to the Ossetian side to graze," the resident said.
The reported events in Kveshi have prompted the international community to call for calm. The Russian Defense Ministry has threatened military action should what it terms Georgian "provocations" - it claims that Georgian artillery shelled the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali -- continue. The EUMM, denied access to South Ossetia, has not substantiated the reports.
On August 3, the European Union requested all sides to "refrain from any statement or action that may lead to tensions at this particularly sensitive time."
France, which brokered the ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia, followed suit. The French Foreign Ministry on August 3 warned that the flare-up in attacks could trigger a new "cycle of violence." The ministry urged both Russia and Georgia to abide by the accords of last August and September.