South Ossetia (Updated)

Georgia, highlighting South Ossetia

Georgian troops have moved to re-take control of South Ossetia:

TSKHINVALI, Georgia – A Cabinet minister says Georgian troops control the capital of the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Georgian troops launched a major military offensive earlier Friday to regain control of South Ossetia, prompting a furious response from Russia.

Russia has sent tanks into the region and the convoy is expected to reach the provincial capital by evening.

The “Republic of South Ossetia”, as the rebellious province is termed, has been recognized by nobody including Russia. Russia has some number of peacekeepers stationed in South Ossetia. The Georgian government has questioned the neutrality of these peacekeepers and according to news reports ten of them have been killed in the conflict. That provides a fine pretext for a Russian intervention in force into the region.

To place this in some perspective South Ossetia is smaller in area than Cook County and has a population of probably less than 100,000. The population is mostly Ossetian and Georgian with a small number of Russians and others. It’s a very poor region with an average equivalent income of less than a dollar a day.

The entire matter—that of the secession of South Ossetia, the apparent re-taking of control by Georgia, and the prospective intervention of Russia—brings up an issue that I’ve raised here from time to time: what is the unit of measure of national sovereignty? It’s hardly credible that a tiny landlocked speck like South Ossetia could constitute a healthy, viable country and it’s further remarkable that Russia should intervene to protect the sovereignty of a country that they don’t recognize.


Pravda reports that about 10 Russian peacekeepers have been killed, 30 wounded, and that the Georgian military is refusing to offer medical assistance to the wounded.

Utro quotes President of the Russian Federation Dmitri Medvedyev as characterizing the Georgian intervention as “aggression”.

The online Russian language press is just full of this story and the prevailing tack is that the Russian military is hurrying to the aid of the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, victims of an aggressive Georgian military.

6 comments… add one
  • It’s not about South Ossetian independence or otherwise. For the Russians, it is about Georgia keeping their place (subsidiary to Russia and away from NATO) and for the Georgians it is about asserting their independence from Russia.

  • I think it’s a sort of re-assertion of the Brezhnev Doctrine, Jeff. The Russians don’t really accept the sovereignty of the USS-were.

  • Like I said, keeping Georgia in its place. The interesting thing is how far the Russians want to push this. Georgia seems to be ready to go to war over it. I have not gotten the impression that the Russians want to; they seem to want to scare the Georgians into place. But the thing about that is, if the Georgians want to fight over it, the Russians face a Hobson’s choice: fight with small resources (limited risk, and maybe lose – thus losing control over the “USS-were” completely), fight with large resources (risking bringing the US in with airpower and advisors at least on Georgia’s side, and risking losing, and thus risking any influence over the former Soviet states), withdraw (thus lose any influence over former Soviet states). Russia’s only possibility, if their deterrence fails, is to fight with force precisely calibrated to win, reduce risks of domestic backlash (as with Chechnya initially and Afghanistan at the end), and not bring the US into it. It’s a balancing act the Russians are known for doing very well, and the Russians, by ponying up the ante by sending in additional troops, are guaranteeing a non-trivial war, a loss of influence over former Soviet states, or both. Putin and his minions may be ruthless, but they’re not very good strategists.

  • It’s beyond that, Jeff. It’s a real shootin’ war. Reports from Georgia say that the Russians have been dropping bombs on Georgian cities along the border all night and the Russian press is reporting that Russian tanks have crossed or soon will cross the Georgian border.

  • Let me start with saying that I don’t follow Georgian-Russian relationships enough == but the Russian motivation is similiar to all of their actions in Moldava, the Baltics and other regions where ethnic Russians are a locally large faction of an indpendent region of the USS-Were (nice phrase). They are very prickly about the near abroad and picking a fight that will not provoke NATO/US intervention (which US politician wants to argue that US soldiers should die to protect Georgian territorial integrity…..)while laying out an object lesson to the other mini-states. And if the BTC pipeline happens to become an unreliable transit route which coincidentally forces oil prices up AND the Caspian Sea oil producers to become more reliant on Russian controlled distribution networks, well isn’t that just peachy….

  • I hadn’t been keeping up today – been busy working. I just caught up. Yes, that certainly means that Russia’s deterrence option has failed. The question now is does this get to be small war (looks like at least a brigade already committed by the Russians) or a big war.

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