Russia has sent a missile cruiser and two other ships to Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, after a US military ship docked at a southern port in Georgia.
The show of force coincides with the escalating standoff between the West and Moscow, over its conflict with Tbilisi. There was an effusive welcome for the Russian sailors from the Abkhazian leader.
The day before, the Russian President recognised the Georgian rebel territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, prompting widespread condemnation from the West.
The Kremlin has said it will take what it calls “precautionary measures” against a build-up of NATO forces in the Black Sea.
Adopting the principle that discretion is the better part of valour, the Americans have pulled back from a direct showdown with Russia. A US Coast Guard cutter delivered humanitarian aid to the Black Sea port of Batumi. The Dallas was diverted from the port of Poti, 80 kilometres north, which is still controlled by Russian troops.
It was to have been joined by US warship, the USS McFaull, which docked on Sunday to unload aid supplies. But those plans changed too.
Georgia’s leader has poured scorn on suggestions the Kremlin could sustain an all-out confrontation with the West, but Moscow is keeping its troops in parts of his country, despite demands to withdraw, and it says it will only pull them out if international monitors move in.