As the war in Ukraine continues, a development taking place in another part of the former Soviet Union, came and went by without much coverage. In May, the then leader of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia announced plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia.
Although it may have appeared to be the ideal moment for Moscow to annex the territory, the vote was promptly called off as a result of pressure from Russia. What intentions does Russia truly have as for South Ossetia?
Breakaway regions are largely, if not completely, unrecognised on the world stage, usually being isolated from the international community, and almost always relying on some form of a patron state for their political and economical goals. However, it is not true to claim that their values will always harmonise. Sometimes, the de facto state wants to pull away from the patron state, while on the other hand, some states may wish to tighten their cooperation, even as far as fully integrating.
In spring 2022, keeping in mind international attention fixated on Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the leader of the de facto state announced plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia. The Ossetians are primarily a Christian Orthodox people living in an area straddling the Caucasus mountains. In the late 18th century, Imperial Russia took the region along with the rest of Georgia. In 1917, the two parts were separated - with North Ossetia incorporated into Russia, and South Ossetia becoming a part of a briefly independent Georgian state.
This led to a series of uprisings, put down by the authorities in Tbilisi.
In 1921, Georgia was captured by the Red Army. The region was transformed into an autonomous region under the USSR. When the Soviet Union dissolved, South Ossetians saw this as an opportunity to break away. In 1991, as Georgia regained its independence after decades of Soviet rule, it did its best to keep South Ossetia by all means. Everything changed when NATO flirted with the possibility of Georgia’s entry into the alliance, which resulted in Moscow invading the country.
Ever since then, the relations between Tbilisi and Moscow have remained strained, as NATO accession is impossible due to the unresolved border disputes in the two breakaway regions.
To shed more light on the issue, we were joined by Jan Piekło, Poland’s former ambassador to Ukraine.