Crisis in the Caucasus: Russia, Georgia and the West

Crisis in the Caucasus: Russia, Georgia and the West

Crisis in the Caucasus: Russia, Georgia and the West

Crisis in the Caucasus: Russia, Georgia and the West

Synopsis

This collection of essays by a series of academic specialists examines the crisis stemming from the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008 from a range of standpoints. The chapters probe the geopolitical and strategic dimensions of the crisis as well as the longer term military and diplomatic implications for Europe and the central Asian region. The collection will be of major importance to students of Russia and Eastern Europe, military analysts as well as journalists and politicians concerned with what some observers have termed a "new cold war" between Russia and the West. This book was published as a special issue of Small Wars and Insurgencies.

Excerpt

Paul B. Rich

On August 7 2008 Russian troops invaded Georgia in a short military operation that has led to an effective Russian takeover of the two regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The immediate case of the invasion was a dispute over the status of the region of South Ossetia, which up to 1990 had formed an autonomous region in what was then the Autonomous Georgian Soviet Republic. For some analysts the conflict can be interpreted as yet another example of the “narcissism of minor differences” since Ossetians and Georgians had lived amicably side by side for generations and shared a similar Christian tradition in contrast to their Muslim neighbours. Both communities have been subject, since the early nineteenth century, following to an intense process of Russification following Georgia’s incorporation into the Russian empire in 1801. Ossetian peasants participated along with Georgians in a number of revolts against Russian domination in the nineteenth century but the advent of Georgian nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries exposed a growing wedge between the two groups. The period of brief Georgian independence between 1918 and 1921 however saw Ossetian revolts against Georgian rule through its Menshevik government. These revolts were backed by Ossetians in North Ossetia and were bloodily suppressed by the Georgian government before it too lost its independence and became incorporated into the Soviet Union.

The renewal of Ossetian-Georgian rivalries in the South Caucasus can also be viewed as another example of a “frozen conflict” which has been unfrozen in the period since the demise of the Soviet Union. Certain basic features of the conflict though have not been very easily understood in the West, not least the fact that Ossetians came to form only a small minority in the new Georgian state that gained its independence in 1991. Some 3% of the total Georgian population was estimated to be Ossetian in the 1989 census or 164,055 out of a total of 5,443,000. Moreover the total population in South Ossetia was a mere 98,527 of which 29% were Georgian and 66.2% Ossetian. So this was a very small society (rather like that of a tiny Caribbean island) which had some cultural divisions based on past conflicts and Ossetian hostility to Georgian nationalism but none that could not – with sufficiently adroit political leadership – be handled in a way that could promote long-term communal harmony. Indeed, it could be argued that the Georgian cultural divisions are far less salient than those, say, of Northern Ireland and need not have led to territorial division. As things now stand the Russian invasion has effectively excised two provinces from Georgia in the form of South Ossetia and . . .

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