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No Relief Comes As A Relief

Poti's port on August 25
Poti's port on August 25
10 a.m. local time (8 a.m. GMT)

Port Authority spokesman Gocha Lemonjava was right.

The "Dallas" didn't dock in Poti after all, although it had been expected to deliver U.S. humanitarian aid today. Some fanfare, accompanied by Georgian and American flags, had been planned but obviously was called off.

Apparently authorities decided at the last moment that the vessel would instead dock at Batumi and deliver the aid there. I suppose the decision was based on security considerations -- an interpretation that has been backed by some of the experts I spoke to here. I called Lemonjava and he would neither confirm nor deny it -- that was obviously before the change of plans was confirmed by U.S. authorities. Lemonjava just repeated the phrase three times: "I can't say anything about that."

Word that the U.S. Coast Guard cutter wasn't coming was obviously the main news of the day for Poti's residents. But perhaps surprisingly to people who aren't here in Poti, the development generated buzz rather than disappointment.

Right after it was made public, some neighbors came by my place for a cup of coffee. They -- and in fact just about everyone I spoke to -- expressed genuine relief. People had been really worried that the effort could spark a confrontation or otherwise exacerbate an already tense situation. One neighbor suggested that "if we ordinary folks were aware of the dangers this could cause in the town, obviously Georgian authorities knew even more and, with that information in mind, they made a wise decision." Another expressed her hunch that everyone probably knew all along that the ship would go to Batumi but put the idea of a U.S. warship's visit on the table as part of some sort of high-level game, a test of wills.

Anyway, the overwhelming majority of opinion I'm hearing around Poti is that it wasn't the time to try something like this. People think the likelihood of some sort of provocation from the Russian side would have been quite high.

At the moment, it's very hot, despite overnight and early morning rain. Poti is still half-empty, since many of those who left during the bombardment have not returned. But I think they're starting to come back.

There are of course no tourists on the streets, and hotels are mostly empty.

I also visited one of the Russian checkpoints on the outskirts today. For the past week or so, the Russian troops have been letting most cars pass -- just stopping vehicles occasionally. Now, it looks like they're not stopping any vehicles at all. I spent about 15 minutes watching the flow of traffic, and no one was stopped -- including a huge truck that the Russians didn't even seem to notice.