GEORGIA IS a poor country with only four million inhabitants. But facing the Black Sea between Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is of key strategic importance for any outside power trying to exercise influence over the whole region from the Middle East through to the Chinese border. Britain occupied the country briefly as part of its efforts to destroy the Russian Revolution in the aftermath of the First World War.
And, with BP playing a big part in the oil pipeline, New Labour went along with the US policy of loving up to Shevardnadze. But the powers that really matter today are the US and Russia. Both now have bases in the country. Russia also gets support from national minorities in the north of the country, the Abkhazians and the Ossetians.
Since uprisings in the early 1990s, the rulers of both regions have relied on Russia to keep them virtually independent of the Georgian government. The government of Russian president Vladimir Putin sees these minorities as pawns that can aid their attempts to dominate the national minorities within Russia itself.
In particular, Putin wants a free hand to use Russian troops in Georgia to attack Chechen fighters who have taken refuge in the Pankisi Gorge. The US also wants to attack the fighters in the gorge, claiming some belong to Al Qaida, but opposes the Russians doing so. Some commentators fear that the end result of these rivalries will be renewed civil war, with US-backed Georgian troops fighting Russian-backed Abkhazians and Ossetians.
Meanwhile, as the big imperialism of the US, aided by Britain, struggles with the smaller imperialism of Russia, the workers and peasants can expect their poverty to get worse-unless they build on last weekend's rising.