Unstable South Caucasian equilibrium

Ten years ago, Russia joined an armed confrontation in the post-Soviet region for the first time
Ten years ago, Russia joined an armed confrontation in the post-Soviet region for the first time

On August 8, 2008, Russia joined an armed confrontation in the post-Soviet region for the first time. There were no "polite people," no "volunteer formations," no "veteran detachments," no "private paramilitary groups." The Russian army was fighting against Georgia. According to Moscow, it was forced to deploy regular units to South Ossetia to save its peacekeepers and protect civilians, most of whom had Russian citizenship. According to Tbilisi, it was Russia who started the war, and military actions were preceded by multi-day provocations against the Georgian population and the Georgian peacekeeping contingent.

The seeming equality of forces in the five-day war was only on the first stage, before the Russian aviation joined in. If the Georgian leaders hoped for active help from the West, they were deceived. Nobody wanted to fight against Russia, Georgia received a conditional military aid - of humanitarian nature, aside of the US aircraft carrier that entered the Black Sea, which  Russia "did not notice" for a long time. The West turned its efforts to the diplomatic vector, which resulted in a ceasefire agreement, named after former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was making shuttle trips between Moscow and Tbilisi in order to sign it, as well as former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The conclusion of the agreement and Georgia's refusal to sign a treaty of peace with uncontrolled autonomies of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was followed by the recognition of their sovereignty by Moscow and a pair of smaller players, Georgia's disruption of diplomatic relations with Russia, arrangement of Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to guarantee security, Georgia's naming of them as "occupation forces," and of Russia - as "occupier." These terms, nonetheless, were eagerly picked up by the West and today are often used in statements about Moscow with calls to withdraw troops from the territory of Georgia.

This war of words lasted ten years. Russian units continue to guarantee peace and security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia unsuccessfully continues to demand their withdrawal, referring to the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, one of the points of which says that the conflicting parties must withdraw troops to their pre-crisis positions. Moscow, Sukhumi and Tskhinvali require Tbilisi to write a peace treaty and reconcile with the new realities, i.e. to recognize the sovereignty of former autonomies. But Tbilisi refuses to sign such a document, calling the peace treaty with its own regions a nonsense, and instead of recognizing sovereignty, it proposes uniform (it looks like the only it come up with) integration schemes for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, calling Abkhazians and Ossetians its brothers and sisters every once in a while.

Trade and humanitarian ties between Moscow and Tbilisi have been restored, but the absence of political ties continues to affect them. Each other's frequent calls to make a conciliatory gesture, in the end, turn into a presentation of mutual claims. Georgia's unsettled relations with Moscow, Tskhinvali and Sukhumi became an obstacle for its admission to NATO. At every summit Tbilisi continues to receive assurances of support and promises to be accepted into the alliance someday, without even indicating an approximate date.

Several NATO members quite frankly explain their reluctance to see Georgia in the alliance with fears of Russia, whose leaders unequivocally warned about serious consequences which could be brought by the reception of this Transcaucasian state into the alliance. Georgia's sporadic attempts to improve relations with Russia receive a positive response  from the leadership of the North Atlantic alliance, and it's not hypocrisy. Obviously, Georgia's accession to NATO is possible, only when Moscow will be fine with it, or could not object to it.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, having received recognition of its independence by Russia and several smaller countries, continue their local development attempts with a practical absence of ties with other states. Both strongly depend on Russian financial influences. And just as many years ago, Abkhazia is able to somehow claim for relative self-sufficiency in the future. But South Ossetia's ability to remain independent still raises doubts. It is no accident that the region's aspirations to join Russia are strong enough, albeit at the cost of a complete loss of sovereignty - through unification with North Ossetia. This idea is much less popular in Abkhazia, where the dream of recognizing the republic's independence worldwide remains the dominant one. But it seems to be mired in a deep political crisis. No power can dramatically improve the situation as a whole. Here is a short version of events in this part of the South Caucasus region 10 years after the Russian-Georgian war in South Ossetia. And there is no sign of some splash that can change the local regularity.

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Vestnik Kavkaza

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