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“If the talks are ongoing, it allows Russia to keep what it has established on the ground. And what they have on the ground benefits them,” she said in a telephone interview.

Russia also benefits because the European Union has not responded to the crisis with a unified front.

“Since the war, Germany, France and Italy are all a lot more eager to get back to business as usual, and to see this Georgia business go away,” Ms. Baran said. Each country stands to benefit from continuing lucrative bilateral energy and business projects with Russia.

At the same time, Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom and Baltic states have demanded that Russia fully comply with the cease-fire agreement.

Russia´s strongest weapon in Europe is energy. It supplies 50 percent of Europe´s natural gas and 30 percent of its oil, which gives Moscow great leverage over individual countries.

Western Europe wants closer business and energy relations with Russia and is afraid to upset Moscow, said David Smith, a former U.S. ambassador and director of the Georgian Security Analysis Center in Tbilisi.

Up the road from Lt. Federov of the Russian army, Akhalgori´s residents said they hope the European Union will hold Russia to the cease-fire agreement.

Many of Akhalgori´s Ossetians, who made up about 15 percent of the town´s prewar population, want the Russian and South Ossetian forces to leave, said Irina, an Ossetian woman who said she has lived in Akhalgori her entire life.

“Ossetians and Georgians - we have nothing to divide us. We´ve always lived together very well,” she said while standing in a Georgia-owned general store.

Like other residents, she would only give her first name out of fear of reprisal from the South Ossetian militia.

The town´s Ossetians have been left alone, but some have been beaten and intimidated for being friendly with Georgians, several residents said.

Running water has been restored, but the town is still without gas.

“We can´t even go into the forest to get wood because we´re afraid they´ve mined it, but we´re going to have to figure some way to get wood come winter,” said Shota, a middle-aged Georgian.