Sunday, August 10, 2008


The war between Russia and Georgia is ostensibly about control of South Ossetia, a region that has been part of Georgia since 1928. Historically the Ossetians, derived from the pagan Alani tribe, were a distinct group speaking an Iranian dialect. Ossetia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, and Stalin decided unilaterally to divide the mountainous North Ossetia (also known as Alania) from the pastoral South Ossetia in order to straighten the border between the Russian Soviet Federal Republic and the Georgian Soviet Republic. This was a case of nationalism, since Stalin (real name Djugashvilli) was a Georgian himself, even though nationalism was a crime for which Stalin executed millions of people.
Once Georgia seceded from the former Soviet Union and became a sovereign State in 1991, South Ossetia was an integral part of it. However, the North Ossetians have continued to agitate for reunification with their Southern compatriots, and the South Ossetians, consisting of about 700,000 people, have formed a rebel group that have started to fight for secession from Georgia to Russia. The South Ossetians are neither Georgian nor Russian, but most are Russian Orthodox Christians. The Russians clearly have supported the South Ossetian secessionist movement.
A similar situation exists in relation to Abkhazia, that was a small autonomous region of the RFSFR, but was incorporated into Georgia in 1922. There was a war of independence for Abkhazia in the 1990s against the Georgians, which resulted in a Russian invasion and occupation of Abkhazia. Now it seems Russia is exercising its power and influence over the trans-Caucasas region. One could conclude this is less about Ossetia and Abkhazia than it is about Russian PM (former Pres.) Putin flexing his muscles. The trigger for him was the stated intention of PM Sakhashvilli of Georgia, who is very pro-Western, of joining NATO. Putin is trying to stem the tide of all the former Soviet States on the periphery of Russia joining the Western alliance, that he and most Russians perceive of as anti-Russian.
Everyone outside the region is calling for a ceasefire now, but the Russians will not agree to one until they exact some price, that may be an agreement by Georgia not to join NATO.


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