The origins of conflict

What are the official casualty figures among civilians in South Ossetia?

During three days of Georgian aggression, South Ossetia lost more than 2pc of its population. It is estimated that about 2,000 people were killed, and more than 30,000 fled the country. These figures are not final. In South Ossetia, Georgian bombing and shelling razed several villages and more than 80pc of the buildings in Tskhinvali, the region's capital. People tried to take shelter in basements. They are still clearing the rubble, and the number of victims is going up.
This is Georgia's second war against the self-proclaimed republic of South Ossetia in the last 20 years. The first one lasted from 1990 to 1992 and resulted in approximately 3,000 casualties. More than 40,000 Ossetians fled to Russia.

How, why and when was it decided that South Ossetia should be part of Georgia?

The territory of the modern North and South Ossetias was included into the Russian Empire in 1774. After the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Georgia announced its cessation from Russia, and attempted to annex Ossetia. The Ossetians replied with an armed uprising. About 18,000 Ossetians perished in the struggle against Georgian occupation. In 1921, the Bolsheviks established a Soviet government in Georgia, putting an end to its short-lived independence. Stalin initiated the artificial division of Ossetia. In 1924, the northern part became the North Ossetian Autonomous Region within the Russian Federation, and the southern part received the status of an autonomous region within Georgia. Apparently, Stalin was afraid that left as a single entity, Ossetia could cause trouble because it had defended its rights by force more than once.
In 1990, in response to the South Ossetian parliament's decision to raise its status in Georgia to an autonomous republic, Tbilisi sent troops to Tskhinvali. A new war broke out, and South Ossetia was blockaded. Surrounded by Georgian tanks, South Ossetia held a referendum on national independence in 1992. More than 90pc of voters supported the idea.
The conflict ended when Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, signed an agreement on the principles of settlement in July 1992. This document came to be known as the Dagomys Agreement. The Joint Peacemaking Force (JPF), consisting of the Russian, Georgian and North Ossetian battalions, was brought into the region.

Until now, Russia has insisted it was merely a peacekeeping force within South Ossetia. How far is Russia prepared now to go in support of the claims of independence from South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

In 2006, a referendum on independence was held in South Ossetia. Russia did not prevent it, but looked at it as a strictly domestic affair of this Georgian territory. Before Mikheil Saakashvili's army invaded South Ossetia, this issue was repeatedly discussed in Russian society, but nobody was rushing to do anything about it.
True, Russia rendered economic aid to the unrecognised Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but it was the only country that could prevent them from a new war. It was ready for economic cooperation with them to prevent humanitarian catastrophe there. Moreover, Russia did not demand they become Russian territories as a condition for its help. Meanwhile, Georgia insisted that Sukhumi and Tskhinvali should recognise its power before resuming contacts with them.
President Dmitry Mededev has voiced Russia's position on further bilateral relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He said: "Russia will support any decisions which the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will make in conformity with the UN Charter, the 1966 International Convention, and the Helsinki Act on Security in Europe." He added that Russia "will not only support these decisions, but will support their implementation both in the Caucasus and the rest of the world".

If there were a regime change in Georgia, and Georgia decided it was less interested in Nato membership, would South Ossetia and Abkhazia withdraw their requests for independence?

Their decision to become independent was not influenced by Georgia's plan to join Nato, although it definitely enhanced the desire of former autonomies to leave Georgia.
But the main reason which motivated South Ossetians and Abkhazians to rid themselves of Georgian rule was the fear of a new war, and new ethnic cleansing.
Over three days in August, Georgians killed civilians for the sake of preserving territorial integrity, and unleashed their second war against South Ossetia in the last 20 years.
As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it, after all that has happened, it is difficult to see who could manage "to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to accept the idea that they may be returned to Georgia by force.
"Russia does not want Georgia's break-up, but neither Ossetians nor Abkhazians want to live in the same state with a man who sends his troops against them," he added.

What is the status of South Ossetia and will it be reunited with North Ossetia?

Moscow does not consider this an urgent issue. It is too early to think about the unification of both Ossetias before the problem of South Ossetia's international recognition is discussed. Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on August 26.
However, Russia is completely convinced that the recognition of Kosovo's independence by the world community sets a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Several years ago, French diplomats quoted a serious argument in support of Kosovo's independence: Serbia will never become a democracy as long as it has even one chance of retrieving Kosovo by force. A similar argument fully applies to Georgia.
As long as Tbilisi hopes to return Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force, democratic principles and peace in the region may be forgotten. This situation primarily threatens European security.
If Georgia joins Nato and provokes a conflict with Russia because of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the alliance will have to help it militarily.

Does Europe need military confrontation with Russia?

Paradoxical as it may seem, the sooner the West recognises the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the safer it will feel, and the easier it will be to continue the discussion of Georgia's entry into Nato.

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