Staunton, March 30 – Ever since the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, South Osetian leaders have wanted their republic to be annexed by the Russian Federation and combined with the larger North Osetian Republic. But Moscow had been reluctant to take that step.
On the one hand, the Kremlin clearly believed that any act of annexation would generate far more serious reaction abroad than simply creating another “unrecognized” territory on the former Soviet space. And on the other, Moscow viewed the combination of the two Osetias as something that could trigger more instability in the North Caucasus
But now in the wake of the Crimean Anschluss, an act that many in the West appear to be on the way to accepting and more sadly to legitimating and with suggestions that South Osetia could enter the Russian Federation as a separate federal subject, Moscow’s calculations may be changing.
Although Russian diplomats continue to press Tbilisi to sign peace agreements with South Osetia and Abkhazia, a step that would point to a continuation of the status quo (ng.ru/cis/2014-03-28/7_gruzia.html), a leading Russian analyst of the North Caucasus is arguing that Moscow now has “no alternative” to annexing South Osetia and nothing to fear if it does.
In an essay on APN.ru, Yana Amelina, a senior specialist at the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, says that what she calls “the Crimean precedent” is making the issue of the future status of the Republic of South Osetia “particularly significant” (apn.ru/publications/article31328.htm).
“After Crimea,” she writes, the longstanding dream of many in South Osetia to become part of the Russian Federation “may quite quickly become a reality.” Indeed, she says, Osetians both south and north of the existing border of the Russian Federation say that it is hard to imagine a better time for taking such a step.
At a March 19 conference on “The Situation in Crimea and Ukraine. Prospects for Development and Search for a Way Out” in North Caucasus, “all who touched on this theme” spoke in favor of annexation, including the first president of the republic, a leading Osetin historian and Amelina herself.
Mira Tskhovrebova, the deputy chairman of the South Osetian parliament, created “a small sensation by declaring that ‘Crimea has changed everything’ and ‘if this is a window of opportunity, it beyond doubt must be used.’” If Moscow gives the go ahead, she continued, we can organize a referendum for unification just like in Crimea.
The arguments for unification, Amelina says, are well known: Such an action would allow the Osetins to develop, it would provide greater security for them and for others in the region, and it would allow Osetia to become “an advance post of Russia” in the Caucasus as a whole.
According to Amelina, there are no good arguments against unification, especially since concerns about “’ what will the West say’ have lost their importance” for Russia. And she insists, there are compelling reasons to move now so that the Osetins in the south will have better socio-economic prospects.
Moreover, she says, “the time of small states, which objectively do not have the geopolitical, human, material, and moral resources needed for all-around development is passing.” And it can pass “very quickly” if Russia recognizes the need to make such “fateful choices.”