Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Will Moscow Annex South Osetia Soon or Not at All?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 29 – Despite Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comment four days ago that he “hadn’t heard” about any South Osetian calls to that republic follow the example of Crimea, a conference organized by the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies says that South Osetia will be part of the Russian Federation by the end of the year.

            In reporting on that April 22 meeting in Vladikavkaz, RISI analyst Ana Yamelina says that Lavrov “evidently” was speaking about Abkhazia because only someone not living “in the real world” could have failed to hear about the desire of the overwhelming majority of South Osetians to become part of the Russian Federation (apn.ru/publications/article31507.htm).

            But what is most interesting in her report is the note of almost desperation behind the words of several speakers that South Osetia must seek annexation now and Russia must agree – or, as a result of rapidly changing conditions in Georgia and the South Caucasus more generally, that opportunity will be missed and the absorption of the breakaway republic will not happen.

                 Speaking to the conference, Vladimir Kozin, head of the consultants group at RISI, said that his institution would be working on a report based on the assumption that South Osetia will become part of the Russian Federation “already in this year.”  According to Amelina, his words were “greeted with applause.”

            Albert Dudaiti, a professor at the North Osetian State University, told the meeting that “in his view, the situation in the Transcaucasus could change quite quickly. If Tbilisi, using the Ukrainian crisis is able to become a member of NATO, the issue about the future fate of the Republic of South Osetian would take on a completely different perspective.”

            According to Dudaiti, “today,” however, “South Osetia and all the divided Osetin people have a unique historic change which must be used.”

            Amelina herself, who also spoke to the meeting, said that Moscow “had more than once explained that the fate of the divided people is in the hands of the Osetins themselves.” And she expressed the conviction that “the leadership of the Russian Federation would not refuse to take in South Osetia once its people publicly demonstrate their will.”

            At the same time, Amelina continued, no one should “underestimate the activity of the pro-Georgian lobby in the Russian Federation, the goal of which is ‘the restoration of the territorial integrity of Georgia,’ that is, the return to within its borders of independent Abkhazia and South Osetia.”

            Another speaker, Kosta Dzhugayev, a professor at South Osetian State University, stressed the importance of what he called “the Crimean precedent” for South Osetia and other divided peoples.” But Aleksandr Sergeyev, author of a RISI volume on South Osetia, said that there would be “a number of complexities” that would have to be addressed in its case.

            Nonetheless, he argued, that “by saving South Osetia,” which currently is in a difficult position, “we will thus save Russia as well.”


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