Georgia (South Ossetia)


Conflict Summary

Although physically separated from Russia by the high Caucasus Mountains, many South Ossetians feel a strong affinity with it culturally and politically. Their largely rural land declared its independence from Georgia in 1990, a year earlier than Abkhazia, but there is less perceived desire for independence. Lacking Abkhazia's immediate tourism potential, South Ossetia has had a reputation for organised crime, smuggling and pervasive corruption. The region is still internationally recognised as part of Georgia, which has offered it considerable autonomy. However, with Russian assistance its affairs have essentially been run from the local capital, Tskhinvali, since it fought its first separatist war in 1991–92. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's determination to keep the disputed territory within his country saw further fighting in 2004 and 2008. In the latter conflict, Russia sent troops, tanks and aircraft across the border, saying – because many South Ossetians have taken Russian passports – that it needed to defend 'its' citizens. Its military rolled into Georgia proper before withdrawing, and the war subtly altered the regional balance of power. While South Ossetia generally remains in diplomatic limbo, Moscow has led a handful of capitals in recognising  Tskhinvali's independence and used the opportunity to shore up its considerable influence there.