Thursday, August 14, 2008

Q&A: Violence in South Ossetia


Russian and Georgian troops have been fighting over the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia.

The separatist administration in South Ossetia has been trying to gain formal independence since breaking away in a civil war in the 1990s.

Russia already had troops in the region, on a peacekeeping mandate, before the outbreak of fighting. But Moscow also supports the separatists.

What is the status of South Ossetia?

South Ossetia has run its own affairs since fighting for independence from Georgia in 1991-92, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It has declared independence, though this has not been recognised by any other country.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, back under full Georgian control.

Why do Ossetians want to break away?

The Ossetians are a distinct ethnic group originally from the Russian plains just south of the Don river. In the 13th Century, they were pushed southwards by Mongol invasions into the Caucasus mountains, settling along the border with Georgia.

South Ossetians want to join up with their ethnic brethren in North Ossetia, which is an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation.

Ethnic Georgians are a minority in South Ossetia, accounting for less than one-third of the population.

But Georgia rejects even the name South Ossetia, preferring to call it by the ancient name of Samachablo, or Tskhinvali, after its main city.

What triggered the latest crisis?

GeorgiaTension has risen since the election of President Saakashvili in 2004. He offered South Ossetia dialogue and autonomy within a single Georgian state - but in 2006 South Ossetians voted in an unofficial referendum to press their demands for complete independence.

In April 2008 Nato said Georgia would be allowed to join the alliance at some point - angering Russia, which opposes the eastward expansion of Nato. Weeks later, Russia stepped up ties with the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In July Russia admitted its fighter jets entered Georgian airspace over South Ossetia to "cool hot heads in Tbilisi". Occasional clashes escalated, until six people were reportedly killed by Georgian shelling. Attempts to reach a ceasefire stuttered.

How did it escalate?

After further exchanges of fire, Georgia launched an aerial bombardment and ground attack on South Ossetia on Thursday 7 August, only hours after the sides agreed a ceasefire. By Friday, Georgian forces were reportedly in control of Tskhinvali.

Russia responded by pouring thousands of troops into South Ossetia, and launching bombing raids both over the province and on targets in the rest of Georgia. Within days, Russia had seized control of Tskhinvali.

Why is Russia involved?

Russia insists it was acting as a peacekeeper in South Ossetia, rejecting Georgian accusations that it has been supplying arms to the separatists.

But it has vowed to defend its citizens in South Ossetia - of which there are many. More than half of South Ossetia's 70,000 citizens are said to have taken up Moscow's offer of a Russian passport.

Until recently Russia said it respected Georgia's territorial integrity, and only wanted to look out for Russian citizens. But, following Georgia's military action, Russian PM Vladimir Putin said it was now unlikely that South Ossetia would reintegrate with the rest of Georgia.

Could the conflict spread?

Tensions have risen in Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia to the west. Breakaway leader Sergei Bagapsh has vowed to expel all remaining Georgian forces; Russia has sent thousands of reinforcements, saying it will not allow Georgia to carry out a similar operation on a second front.

What about Georgia's links to Nato?

President Saakashvili has made membership of Nato one of his main goals. Georgia has had a close relationship with the United States - sending troops to join the US-led coalition in Iraq - and has been cultivating ties with Western Europe.

There are those who believe that Mr Saakashvili may have been hoping to draw Nato into a conflict with Moscow, making their alliance a formal one.

But analysts say it is difficult to imagine Nato allowing itself to be drawn into a direct conflict with its Cold War rival after managing to avoid that for so long.

In fact, some say Nato will now be wary about getting closer to Georgia when it has so many outstanding territorial issues.


At 4:27 PM, Blogger Mad Zionist said...

Great report, Gert. I learned a lot from this.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Yeah, I liked it too. Right now, still too much fog of war to establish the exact truth. Misinformation galore...

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Baconeater said...

Much appreciated. I didn't get what was happening and news stories didn't help me one bit.
It makes me wonder as to how many people actually don't understand the IP situation, and how many don't understand very much of it at all.
I have a strong feeling that in Canada and the USA maybe only around 10% of the population,if that, knew what you put in your post today.

At 6:47 PM, Blogger Gert said...


Amen to that, including IP.

As always with these "ethnicity wars", there's a historical twist in the tale that goes back a little more than last Tuesday...

At 3:14 AM, Blogger my blog said...

South Ossetia has really done big struggle for its freedom.

RV Dealer

At 2:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ankur: South Ossetia is nothing but a tool in the hands of the Russian Empire and its leader fuhrer Putin. Russia has been training militias in the Southern Caucusus for years. Russia was the one who provoked Georgia-not the other way around. I hope the Russians/Nazis rot in their own...well whatever...Long live a free and independent Georgia!


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