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Georgia: South Ossetia Update

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Eastern & Central Europe, Georgia, Russia, Breaking News, Ethnicity & Race, International Relations, War & Conflict

See Global Voices special coverage page [1] on the South Ossetia crisis.

With local and international media outlets reporting that fighting is spilling over into Georgia proper, the latest military confrontation with Russia [2] over the breakaway region of South Ossetia looks increasingly like war. Wu Wei reports from Tbilisi [3] that the Vaziani military base just outside the Georgian capital has been bombed. The signs look very ominous indeed [4].

Reports say Russians have damaged the runway at the Marneuli airport near Tbilisi.

We are wondering what the Georgian airforce is doing.

Nobody has declared war yet, and the Russians are hedging, but when you put it all together, it looks pretty much like it.

It seems some dignitaries are on their way, like President Adamkas from Lithuania. They better land quick.

The same blog says that Embassies are now preparing for the possibility that their citizens will have to be evacuated. However, it is not yet certain whether such a move will be necessary [5].

It seems in case of an evacuation it will be through Armenia. Our Greek has been told the same. This seems to be a plan agreed at a meeting of all the embassies earlier in the week.

But nobody is expecting this to be necessary. I'm leaving for Lithuania next Thursday anyway, for a long weekend.

A new meeting of diplomats has been called this afternoon which everybody but the Russians have gone to.

A Fistful of Euros examines the situation from Georgia [6], but also questions whether Russia will risk war over South Ossetia. It also wonders whether Tbilisi received tacit approval for military operations from the U.S. and Europe.

First, what will Russia’s leadership do? It was willing to have Russian planes violate Georgian airspace last week during the escalation, and reports have it that one bomb each fell near the Georgian cities of Gori and Kartveli. On the other hand, this looks like a gesture — if the Russians wanted to have bombs fall on Gori and Kartveli, they jolly well would have. Escalation by the Russian side is of course possible, but Saakashvili’s government has bet that Russia won’t be all that put out about 70,000 South Ossetians. The ruble and the Russian stock market, however, both had big drops today, apparently on the theory that you never know about escalation.

Second, what will the Americans and EU do? A senior State Department figure was here in Tbilisi last week, and I would expect that the Georgian side at least hinted very broadly about what was up. He would have to deny that, of course, in the way of these things. We can assume that the Americans did not warn them off. The German foreign minister was also here, with a plan for Abkhazia. It’s slightly less likely that he was clued in, but the topic of his visit points to the next item on the reintegration agenda.

The same blog also reports that while Russian jets have bombed targets close to the Georgian capital, there has only been sporadic outages in terms of electricity, Internet access and cell phone communication. Meanwhile, other blogs, such as one from Reuters, examine the possibility that Georgian military action is directly related to Kosovo [7].

Is Kosovo to blame for the fighting in South Ossetia?

When the Serbian province seceded from Belgrade in February, South Ossetia was quick to reassert its own claim to international recognition.

As a spokeswoman for separatist leader Eduard Kokoity told Reuters at the time: “The Kosovo precedent has driven us to more actively seek our rights.”

Those remarks will not have gone unheard in Tblisi and could well have added some urgency to Georgia’s desire to impose its rule over breakaway South Ossetia.

the will to exist also comes to the same conclusion, but says the situation is not the same [8].

South Ossetia is another Kosovo in the works. 98-99% of Ossetians want independence if you believe the results of their referendum. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality of the world. Independence for South Ossetia is no more likely than say, Vermont seceding from the United States. Either Georgia or Russia will dominate the territory for the foreseeable future.

Writing on Outside the Beltway, James Joyner again draws parallels with Kosovo and is concerned about the situation, wondering if NATO will have no choice but to intervene [9].

This is still a holdover from the breakup of the Soviet Union. South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in the early 1990s and has de facto sovereignty over large parts of its territory. While neither Georgia nor the international community recognizes the secession as legitimate, Russia has been sympathetic.

Tensions came to a head with Kosovo’s declaration of independence and the push to offer Georgia a membership action plan and eventual inclusion into NATO. Russia immediately began throwing its weight around in both South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia. It appears that Russia is now making its play.

Given that NATO all but promised Georgia eventual membership at its Bucharest summit mere months ago, ignoring Russia’s move here is unthinkable.


This is getting ugly, fast.