Moscow has ‘No Alternative’ to Annexing South Ossetia, Russian Analyst Says

March 30, 2014
Barbed wire on the border between South Ossetia and Georgia. Photo: Reuters

Staunton, March 30 – Ever since the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008, South Ossetian leaders have wanted their republic to be annexed by the Russian Federation and combined with the larger North Ossetian Republic. But Moscow had been reluctant to take that step.

On the one hand, the Kremlin clearly believed that any act of annexation would generate far more serious reaction abroad than simply creating another “unrecognized” territory on the former Soviet space. And on the other, Moscow viewed the combination of the two Ossetias as something that could trigger more instability in the North Caucasus

But now in the wake of the Crimean Anschluss, an act that many in the West appear to be on the way to accepting and more sadly to legitimating and with suggestions that South Ossetia could enter the Russian Federation as a separate federal subject, Moscow’s calculations may be changing.

Although Russian diplomats continue to press Tbilisi to sign peace agreements with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a step that would point to a continuation of the status quo, a leading Russian analyst of the North Caucasus is arguing that Moscow now has “no alternative” to annexing South Ossetia and nothing to fear if it does.

In an essay on, Yana Amelina, a senior specialist at the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, says that what she calls “the Crimean precedent” is making the issue of the future status of the Republic of South Ossetia “particularly significant”.

“After Crimea,” she writes, the longstanding dream of many in South Ossetia to become part of the Russian Federation “may quite quickly become a reality.” Indeed, she says, Ossetians both south and north of the existing border of the Russian Federation say that it is hard to imagine a better time for taking such a step.

At a March 19 conference on “The Situation in Crimea and Ukraine. Prospects for Development and Search for a Way Out” in North Caucasus, “all who touched on this theme” spoke in favor of annexation, including the first president of the republic, a leading Ossetian historian and Amelina herself.

Mira Tskhovrebova, the deputy chairman of the South Ossetian parliament, created “a small sensation by declaring that ‘Crimea has changed everything’ and ‘if this is a window of opportunity, it beyond doubt must be used.’” If Moscow gives the go ahead, she continued, we can organize a referendum for unification just like in Crimea.

The arguments for unification, Amelina says, are well known: Such an action would allow the Ossetians to develop, it would provide greater security for them and for others in the region, and it would allow Ossetia to become “an advance post of Russia” in the Caucasus as a whole.

According to Amelina, there are no good arguments against unification, especially since concerns about “’ what will the West say’ have lost their importance” for Russia. And she insists, there are compelling reasons to move now so that the Ossetians in the south will have better socio-economic prospects.

Moreover, she says, “the time of small states, which objectively do not have the geopolitical, human, material, and moral resources needed for all-around development is passing.” And it can pass “very quickly” if Russia recognizes the need to make such “fateful choices.”