Georgia and Beyond: Russia's Response to Separatism and Ethnic Conflict

The war between Russia and Georgia caught most of the world by surprise but it is a conflict that has long been brewing – and one that is part of a larger drama. The bigger context is Russia's attempt to regain the influence it enjoyed during the years of the Cold War, and the hurdles that stand in the way of projecting its identity as a unified, sovereign nation.

Jason Maloney, Zygmunt Dzieciolowski and Kira Kay report from Georgia, from its breakaway regions and from Russia itself.

Russia's approach to the Georgia crisis is a reprise of its wars in the north Caucasus region of Chechnya, with the twist that this time Russian tanks are rumbling across international borders to stake out positions in a supposedly sovereign neighbor. To most Russians the situations are parallel: This is a security situation; it will be fought through use of force, and separatist tendencies will be brutally crushed. The rebuilt Chechnyan capital of Grozny is showcased as proof that the iron fist works.

But elsewhere in this vast nation there are more nuanced, untold stories of both challenges and successes of Russia's management of separatism, demands for autonomy, or simply protection from discrimination and attack for its minority populations. The Pulitzer team of journalists will examine those challenges and successes, against the backdrop of war in Georgia.

Zugdidi: Will I Ever Go Back?

Last year openDemocracy Russia editor Zygmunt Dzieciolowski travelled in Georgia and Abkhazia. In Zugdidi he met Georgian refugees from Abkhazia with one question uppermost in their minds - would they ever be able to go back?

I crossed from Abkhazia into Georgia to reach the town of Zugdidi, and my thoughts inevitably turned to my mother. She had never visited Georgia, but I saw that the people there had faced exactly the same dilemmas that she faced back in 1939: should they flee and abandon everything, or should they risk staying?

Sukhumi: Café Lika on the Brink of War

I'm not sure I can recommend the Abkhazian house wine that gets served in the bars and restaurants of Sukhumi. The Abkhazians make some drinkable wine, like the 'Psou' brand that is served in Moscow's upscale Aromatniy Mir supermarket chain, but their rough and ready house wine is something to be avoided.

Tbilisi: Twenty Hours Before the War

In August 2008 Zygmunt Dzieciolowski was in Georgia. He interviewed Mikheil Saakashvili, as it happens just twenty hours before the war with Russia broke out. Zygmunt was assured by the President that there were no plans for military action, but later that night he felt very sure that the war could begin at any moment.

Russian, Muslim, and at Peace

Brutal wars in Chechnya and now trouble in places such as Ossetia and Ingushetia have shown the world that ethnic conflict and Islamic separatism are seen as serious threats to Russia, even as it tries to regain some of the power it wielded during the Cold War.

But not all of Russia's Muslim republics are so restive. Welcome to sunny Tatarstan.

Produced by Jason Maloney & Zygmunt Dzieciolowski

Field Producer: Oleg Pavlov

Associate Producer: Aidar Galyautdinov

Round five: Winning essays

In November 2008, The Pulitzer Center partnered with Helium to produce its fifth round of the Global Issues/Citizen Voices Writing contest, challenging contestents to write on the most pressing international issues of the day. Contestents chose from multiple writing prompts related to international issues and Pulitzer Center reporting projects to sculp their winning essays. Read the winning essays below.