Maxim Gunjia sits down in an armchair opposite a plush couch. His spacious office is filled with abstract art. He recalls his time in Washington, which he visited while studying in the United States. "I like Georgetown", he says in unaccented English. "And Adams Morgan--that Cuban place, what is it? The Habana Village!" Like many young clubbers, he prefers New York's scene to Washington's. "The city doesn't really have much of a soul."
Gunjia is hip, 28 and into restaurants, art and jazz. He is also the deputy foreign minister of a country that no legitimate government recognizes and that some people have called a haven for drug traffickers and arms dealers.
It is easy to think of his homeland--the Republic of Abkhazia, a small triangle of land wedged between the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea--as a Ruritanian fantasy. From the perspective of Georgia, which claims Abkhazia as its own territory, it is simply a puppet of Russia, a pretend state that Moscow manipulates in order to keep Georgia's central government weak, scare away foreign investors and block the further expansion of Western influence in the Caucasus. More ominously, Georgian politicians contend that Abkhazia has become a hotbed of black-marketeers, trading in everything from guns to people. Abkhazia's leaders "have profited from illegal smuggling and contraband [and] now threaten to draw us all into conflict", said Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, in a speech in Washington last August. "In the post-September 11 world, illegality and pockets of separatists can no longer be ignored or tolerated."