The XXII Olympic Winter Games may still be six years away, but at vendors' stalls in the northern Abkhaz resort town of Gagra, the Sochi 2014 paraphernalia is already blowing in the breeze. Its presence is no accident.
For the self-declared Republic of Abkhazia, the Games offer a chance to show the world that Abkhazia exists and that it can stand on its own feet. The question is whether its economy can be ready in time.
At first glance, the odds would seem long. Natural beauty may abound in this breakaway Black Sea territory, but the sights come with no commercial airport, no credit card services or ATMs and, after a 13-year economic blockade, limited consumer retail options. Officials say Abkhazia has three years to make the necessary infrastructure repairs, reopen its main airport and upgrade hotels and financial services.
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Elizabeth Owen is EurasiaNetÆs Caucasus news editor in Tbilisi.