On May 20 Moscow signaled officially that it was prepared to promote annexation of Georgia’s region of South Ossetia to the Russian Federation. The Russian government seems set to underwrite an ethnic irredenta there, seeking to put an Ossetian face on Russian state expansionism (as it puts an Abkhaz face on Russian policy there).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized, and Minister Sergei Lavrov attended, a presentation of North Ossetia in Moscow for foreign diplomats and businessmen, ostensibly to mark the 225th anniversary of North Ossetia’s incorporation into the Russian Empire. North Ossetian President Teymuraz Mamsurov told the audience in his speech, “I call on you to support the just desire of the Ossetian people to be united.” Mamsurov announced that he would approach foreign diplomatic missions in Moscow with requests to “assist North and South Ossetia to unite” (Itar-Tass, www.novosti.ru, May 20).
Mamsurov’s pronouncement seems not only to have been authorized, but evidently orchestrated, with Lavrov’s presence at the event indicating high-level support.
Moscow’s loud move on South Ossetia is largely intended to influence Georgia’s May 21 parliamentary elections. It seems designed to impress on Georgian voters that the government cannot handle relations with Russia or deliver on promises to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity, and more broadly to signal that the government is cornered on multiple fronts. Russia’s latest military moves in Abkhazia were also partly calculated to undermine the Georgian government’s standing with voters in the run-up to these parliamentary elections.
Beyond its short-term goals, the endorsement of Ossetian irredentism continues the process of absorbing Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Russia de facto. The Russian presidential decree of April 16 authorized direct official relations between Russian government bodies and the secessionist authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see EDM, April 18). That marked a step toward “legal” recognition in terms of Russian law, formalizing Russia’s de facto annexation policy. In the case of South Ossetia, that move is now being followed up with overt endorsement of ethnic irredentism as an additional instrument of Russian policy in the South Caucasus.
Okay, so when do you think that Russia will make its move? Will it at all? is this just another bit of tactics wrt the Georgian elections? Or is it going to actually do the deed? What will the international community do if Russia uniltaterally annexes chunks of Georgia?
I am leaning towards Russia being serious about this. The reason is that Russia has painted itself into a corner because of Kosovo and the unless it does something its threats will be interpreted as empty. Furthermore, the Russians in Russia will see the government as bombastic with little in the way of teeth: they want creditability and Russia's bite to be real.