Kavkazsky Uzel , Russia
Aug 7 2018
Political analysts point to Russia's reluctance to incorporate Abkhazia and South Ossetia
by Gor Aleksanyan
[Armenian News note: the below is translated from Russian]
Russia prefers to build relations with [Georgia's breakaway regions of] Abkhazia and South Ossetia as with independent states despite statements by South Ossetian politicians on their desire to join [Russia], Russian political analysts have said. They believe that unlike Crimea, Russian elites regard Abkhazia and South Ossetia as alien territories.
Kavkazsky Uzel wrote that Russia recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 26 August 2008. This was preceded by a conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, which Russia interfered in [reference to Georgian-Russian war].
The recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the five-day [Georgian-Russian] war in August 2008 enabled to maintain stability in the South Caucasus, the [incumbent] head of the [Russian] government, Dmitry Medvedev, who held the post of president in 2008, said in his interview to the Kommersant newspaper today.
"After the military component of the campaign for 'pacification of Georgia by force' was completed, a question emerged: 'What is next?' It is natural that it emerged first and foremost for me as head of state. I thought for some time and arrived at the conclusion that there was probably nothing better to be proposed than recognising these two formations. I was guided first and foremost by the desire to maintain lasting peace in the future and stability in the South Caucasus and our region. In my opinion, this was the only possible step," Dmitry Medvedev explained.
He also noted that an attempt to "suspend" this decision "would leave space for violent actions". "If these are independent territorial formations, if these are states and we have agreements and treaties on stationing our military contingent there with them, everything is clear. No one will do anything against them. Everyone realises that it is more costly to deal with the Russian Federation than implement some utopian ideas," he stressed.
Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia's aim in interfering in the conflict was to "establish order and prevent the possibilities of further escalating violence, i.e. military action".
Russia building relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as with independent states
Russia prefers to build relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, never mind their incorporation in the federation. At the same time, the idea of joining Russia is popular in South Ossetia, but not in Abkhazia, political analysts interviewed by Kavkazsky Uzel think.
"If we speak about Abkhazia, the political elite have never spoken about their desire to join Russia. The elites declared that they wanted to be independent from Tbilisi. Now too, the main aim of Abkhazia is to be independent and outside the Georgian state. If we speak about South Ossetia, a sufficiently big part of the Ossetian elite adhere to the idea of joining Russia, but there is no unity regarding this. There is a part of society that believes that it is necessary to be independent. A second part of society believes that it is necessary to join Russia under any conditions and a third part believes that it is necessary to join Russia, but in the shape of a republic," said Vadim Mukhanov, a senior research fellow of the Centre for the Problems of the Caucasus [and Regional Security] of the MGIMO [Moscow State Institute of International Relations].
Mukhanov also said that the leader of South Ossetia, where the idea of joining Russia was widely discussed, is already trying not to speak about this so frequently. "South Ossetian president Anatoly Bibilov used the slogan of accession for the purposes of domestic political processes. Since his party won a victory and he became president, he has no longer used this slogan and has not allowed himself high-profile statements on accession to Russia. Bibilov cannot speak about accession to Russia, because he cannot ensure this. It was an element of the domestic political struggle," Vadim Mukhanov explained.
He believes that Russia did not want to incorporate Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 and does not want this now either. "Had Moscow been ready at that time, it would have incorporated them, not recognised their independence in 2008, particularly as there was every chance of that then. However, it can now be said for sure that Moscow did not want Abkhazia and South Ossetia to join it and the Russian elite does not have such a desire now either. Moscow prefers to cooperate with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as separate states," Mukhanov believes.
Russia has never expressed the desire to incorporate Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Nikolai Silayev, a senior research fellow of the Centre for the Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security of the MGIMO, also said.
According to him, in addition, despite the desire of residents of South Ossetia to join Russia, there is no accord within society on the format of doing this. "The form citizens of South Ossetia would like to join Russia is not clear. It is one thing if it implies joining North Ossetia and it is another thing if it implies joining as a new region [within the Russian Federation] [square brackets as published]. It is hardly likely that people in Tskhinvali would like to turn from superiors in an independent state into heads of municipal districts. As regards the creation of a new region, it is not in Moscow's interests. In general, there is no consensus in South Ossetia as regards the form of joining Russia, although the idea proper is popular," Silayev believes.
He also stressed that the idea of joining Russia was not at all popular in Abkhazia.
Russian elites regard incorporation of Crimea as regaining their own territory
Unlike Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian elites have always regarded Crimea as "our land". Political analysts believe that Russia's interests on the Black Sea and inability to guarantee security in some other way because of the geographic location also facilitated its quick accession [to Russia].
"Abkhazia did not demand accession to Russia and did not strive for this. And South Ossetia is not Crimea. First, the Russian government have never said they wanted South Ossetia to join Russia. Second, if we follow purely realistic logic, a sufficient level of geopolitical clarity has been achieved in South Ossetia due to its recognition as an independent state and the guarantees of security Russia has given it. As regards Crimea, it would be insufficient to do this due to the geographic location and its importance for Russia's presence on the Black Sea," Nikolai Silayev explained to Kavkazsky Uzel.
He said that the Russian elite also regarded Crimea as their territory, which is not true of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"The approach of the people, who made decisions, was that Crimea is our land and Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not our land. When they incorporated Crimea, it was important that it was a region, where most of the population are Russians. No matter what attempts may be made to present the situations in Crimea and South Ossetia and Abkhazia as equal, there is a difference between recognising a country as independent or incorporate it in Russia. It is clear that the latter causes more dissatisfaction in the international community and Russia does not need this," Nikolai Silayev noted.
Vadim Mukhanov, for his part, reminded that the incorporation of Crimea "was not a result of a long-standing ethnic conflict". "Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia are interethnic conflicts. Therefore, it is incorrect to compare them. The situation in Crimea is an absolutely different precedent and has a different background. It is necessary to analyse the domestic political situation in Ukraine and certain political decisions made in the times of the USS, which resulted in handing over the territory of Crimea from one component [of the USSR] to another," Vadim Mukhanov explained.
Russia actively supports peaceful resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh
The recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the incorporation of Crimea have had a multifaceted impact on the situation around [Azerbaijan's breakaway] Nagorno-Karabakh, Nikolai Silayev, a senior research fellow of the Centre for the Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security of the MGIMO, believes.
"The events in August 2008 were a powerful vaccine against attempts to resolve conflicts by force, because before August, post-Soviet elites could have illusions regarding the state of affairs in the Russian military machine, but the illusions evaporated after the tragic events in August 2008. The demonstration of the readiness to use force has sharply raised the stakes in the violent resolution of conflicts for everyone. After 2008, a war in Nagorno-Karabakh became inevitable in case of recognition by Armenia or incorporation in it. In this case, Azerbaijan will have no other choice, but to try to resolve the conflict by military force," the political analyst said.
At the same time, he said that since 2008, Russia has laid emphasis on the fact that the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is an exceptional case.
"It is no accident that since 2008, we have been able to see Moscow's intensive efforts aimed at resolving other conflicts. There have been active steps since then to resolve the Karabakh conflict and the conflict in the Dniester region. Paradoxically, Moscow's course was aimed at showing that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are unique cases and other conflicts must be resolved in some other manner and they must be resolved without war. The logic has been maintained up to now. Crimea and Sevastopol are also an exception and Donbas is a different case, which must be resolved in some other manner that will be acceptable for parties to the conflict," Nikolai Silayev emphasised.
August 2008 had an impact on the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh, Vadim Mukhanov, a senior research fellow of the Centre for the Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security of the MGIMO, also believes.
"There was one situation before 2008 and it has been absolutely different since 2008. The situation was calm from 2008 to 2012, but it has tended towards aggravation since the Sochi Olympics again and led to April 2016. A deterioration of the situation can be observed since then," he said.