Vladimir Priakhin, D.Sc. (Political Science), member, the Russian National Club of Rome Support Committee and the Russian International Research Association (Moscow, Russian Federation)

Where Do We Stand Today?

South Ossetia paid a high price for the bloodshed that happened in its blossoming valleys early in the 1990s; privations and sufferings that were the result of the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia drove tens of thousands away from their homes and deprived them of their possessions. The local migration services have already registered 12,742 refugees and forced migrants mainly from Georgia’s internal areas. By February 1997 the number dropped to 5,018 (driven by the appalling social and economic conditions in the republic, people moved to North Ossetia of the Russian Federation and other regions of Russia). There is an opinion that over 30 thou have already left South Ossetia (one-third of its initial population).1

The moral harm done by this confrontation, the strife and enmity between the peoples that have been living side by side like good neighbors for many centuries is greater still. It is ambitious politicians and predatory criminals following in their footsteps that are obviously responsible for the conflict and its results—it is common people duped by chauvinistic and nationalist propaganda that made them mere vehicles of evil intentions that are paying the high price.

There is no shortage of political, ethnographic, demographic, toponymic and historical arguments designed to explain the conflict’s causes and motives. None of them can be accepted without reservations, yet historical arguments look the least adequate of all.

I shall not go into all historical details here; my aim is to present the key arguments so that to expose the myths about the conflict’s historical roots, about “ages of national-liberation struggle” and “biological enmity” between the Georgians and Ossets. It seems that it would be methodologically correct to first discuss the relations between Russia and Georgia on which my further exposition of the historical and theoretical material will rest.

Russia and Georgia

Historical ties between them, the unique place the Georgian ethnos has been occupying in Russian society are the starting point for any discussion of the conflicts that have been shattering Georgia since the Soviet Union’s collapse. The myth about the “terrible” Russian colonialism that for centuries has been “strangling” Georgia even after the U.S.S.R.’s disintegration and that selected South Ossetia as one of the instruments to return the rebellious and freedom-loving Georgians to the imperial fold is still very popular.

One should say in all justice that czarism, as well as the Soviet leadership headed by Joseph Dzhugashvili (Stalin) and its heirs, treated all nations without exception with imperial disdain; the Russians were no exception. The “colonial element” tag cannot exhaust the entire range of Russo-Georgian relations—their dynamics were much richer than that.

First, living in the politically unstable region Georgians were much more politically sophisticated than Russians. Hardened by political squabbles in the “communal flat of nations and confessions” (something that the Southern Caucasus has been at all times) and having gained the leading position in it, Georgians easily adjusted themselves to the rather amorphous Slavic context of the Russian Empire.

Historically, in Russia people had to fight nature rather than political adversaries to survive—broad masses could be hardly called “politically aware.” They had vague, if any, ideas about the world around them.

Active, exotic, ambitious and politically sophisticated Georgians found it relatively easy to penetrate all spheres of social life of the Russian Empire. When the Russian political elite had been partly destroyed in 1917 and partly driven out of the country, the triumphal march of Georgians along the corridors of power logically ended in the Kremlin. Joseph Dzhugashvili, born in the small Georgian town of Gori, occupied this citadel of power and remained its master for over a quarter of a century. Many people know him under his alias Stalin, but few people know that his native town is quite close to the zone of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict and that his name is quite common in these parts (its Osset variant is Dzugaev). While in Gori and in the rest of Georgia his name is still highly respected, the Ossets hastened to restore the old names (Tskhinvali and Vladikavkaz) of their capitals that in Soviet times bore the names of Soviet Georgian leaders, Stalin and Ordzhonikidze.

Many people associate the phenomenon of Stalin with the symbiosis of a small and large ethnos with no parallels in history, thus ascribing unnatural or even demonic powers to him. Indeed, his was an outstanding personality; he was a powerful and highly inventive political thinker whose personality, however, should not be divorced from the atmosphere of the “Transcaucasian communal flat of nations” in which political skills are not a luxury but bare necessity.

The collapse of the Soviet Union ruptured production, economic, and cultural ties between Russia and Georgia, yet they are still alive in the minds of millions on both sides of the state border. In Russia the Georgian diaspora is as influential as ever; Moscow for Georgians is still one of the most important centers of political influence. This explains an acute interest Russians display in relation to Georgian developments as well as profound conviction (not always groundless) of Georgians that Russia is somewhat involved in anti-Georgian acts, in South Ossetia in particular.

Russia and Ossetia

Russia’s close attention to Georgia’s confrontation with South Ossetia and Abkhazia is explained by the fact that both territories are adjacent to its North Caucasian regions, therefore it looks at the conflict through the prism of its own territorial integrity and the relationships between the federal center with the North Caucasian subjects (North Ossetia in particular). The latter is especially sensitive, since South Ossets standing opposed to official Tbilisi have relatives in Russia who are fairly actively encouraging the separatist trends among their relatives on the other side of the border. This complicates the relations between Russia and Georgia.

The Soviet Union’s disintegration destabilized the political situation, the huge Trans-Caucasian military district had to be disbanded; the larger part of the former Soviet Army had to be removed from the region. All this could not but affect the smooth functioning of the former union administrative structures and the activity of the newly formed structures of Russia and independent Georgia.

The attempts to realize (sometimes by force) the “Georgia for Georgians” slogan formulated by Georgia’s new leaders and Zviad Gamsakhurdia in the first place (the first president of Georgia between October 1990 and January 1992) evoked negative response among the country’s ethnic minorities. Blood was shed in South Ossetia; in the course of disturbances the president’s envoys failed to abolish the autonomy that dated back to Soviet times, they even provoked the Ossets to announce an independent Republic of South Ossetia on 20 September, 1990. The republic remained unrecognized, yet it detached itself from Georgia de facto.

Numerous Western publications and academic works explain Tbilisi’s defeat by the fact that at the very beginning of the conflict Russian troops were fighting side by side with the South Ossets. One can say that amid political chaos that enveloped the former Soviet territory in 1991-1992 Russian citizens, especially from the North Caucasian federation subjects, could have sided with the South Ossets and Abkhazians. Responsibility for this lies with the then Georgian leaders who opted for chauvinism. This probably prevented the Russian-speaking community of Georgia from supporting Tbilisi in the conflict with its ethnic fringes. Georgian intellectuals refused to side with Gamsakhurdia as well; their far-sighted representatives dismissed his policies as “neo-fascist and nationalist.”2 This can be best illustrated by the words “If Gamsakhurdia comes to power, there will be no place for me in Georgia” by outstanding Georgian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili who preferred to die in Russia.3

The roots of the successes the “separatists” scored at the very beginning should not be sought outside but in the objective nature of the process of “tearing apart” the body of the Soviet state. Just like the Georgians, the South Ossets were seeking to realize their right to self-determination and were fighting against the “imperial center” of their own. This fight was not probably always civilized; criminal elements might have been involved in it. It should be said that in Tbilisi leaders of the criminal world were juggling with chauvinistic and nationalistic slogans. But it was wrong to deny ethnic minorities the right to autonomy and to deny the fact that they were living for a long time on “their own” lands within the Georgian state.4

Despite numerous rather contradictory assessments of Georgian developments official Russian circles strictly adhered to the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the neighboring friendly country. At all stages of the conflict the Russian representatives did their best to reach peaceful settlements in both cases within the principles of Georgia’s territorial integrity and respect for the rights of ethnic minorities within the single Georgian state. It was not easy, because Russia has strong historical ties with the Abkhazians and Ossets as well as with Georgians. Though the former two never climbed high on the official ladder in Moscow, the Ossets have the largest share of the Heroes of the Soviet Union among the veterans of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) among all Soviet nations.

The more actively the nationalist elements in Georgia were insisting on separation from Russia the higher South Ossetia hoisted the banner of struggle for separation from Tbilisi and unification with Moscow; Russian public opinion was becoming more pro-Ossetian when it came to assessing the conflict between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali.

This contradictory intertwining of mutual sympathies and antipathies appeared in 1989 and created an axis of greatest trouble Tbilisi-Tskhinvali-Vladikavkaz-Moscow.

A Little Bit of History

Territorially the Georgian-Osset conflict zone is one of the smallest in the world and the smallest in the former Soviet Union: the former South Ossetian Autonomous Region in Georgia covers 3.9 thou sq km with a population of about 100 thou (mainly Ossets, though the Georgian community is not small. It comprises 30 percent5 of the entire population).

As distinct from some other conflicts on the OSCE expanse the Georgian-Osset conflict has no religious component because both sides are mainly Christian Orthodox.

At the same time, this conflict like all others has a very pronounced criminal component. German diplomat Hansjörg Eiff, who headed the first OSCE mission in Georgia, said that it was mixed Georgian-Ossetian bands that interfered with the settlement efforts.6 The same forces that had started the conflict under the pretext of settling long-overdue ethnic problem were fishing in troubled waters and grew rich on the misfortunes of all those who lived in the area, irrespective of ethnic affiliation.

Those who supported Gamsakhurdia proceeded from nationalist considerations and denied those who lived in South Ossetia the right to autonomy. Meanwhile, the historical and ethnographic background is the following: Alans (predecessors of the contemporary Ossets) founded their state in the 9th century. Later, in the 13th century under nomadic pressure they moved to the territory now occupied by Georgia; this date cannot be exploited to deprive the South Ossets of the right to autonomy in the 21st century.

North Ossetia joined Russia in 1774; South Ossetia, in 1801.7 At the same time, A. Galazov, former president of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania is convinced that in Russia Ossetia was a single entity.8

After the 1917 October revolution the Ossets refused to recognize power of independent democratic Georgia (1917-1921) on their territory and were fighting against it throughout the entire period of Georgia’s independent existence. In April 1922, when the Red Army reached the region Ossetia was divided into North and South Ossetia.9 The Ossets themselves recognize that the problem of two republics appeared in the early years of Soviet power.10 In 1924, North Ossetia was included into the R.S.F.S.R. as an autonomous region; in 1936, it became an autonomous republic. On 20 April, 1922, its neighbor South Ossetia became part of Georgia as the South Ossetian Autonomous Region. It seems that Gamsakhurdia’s supporters who are denying the South Ossets the right to autonomy proceed from the mainly arbitrary decision Bolsheviks adopted in the early 1920s.

It is easy to describe the decision to divide the Ossets as “another historical injustice of Stalin’s nationalities policy.” This is partly true. One should not forget, however, that in the extremely complicated conditions in which ethnic delimitation in the Caucasus takes place decisions on borders are very hard to assess. After all, the Georgian names for the same area (Samachablo and Shida Kartli, the territories adjacent to North Ossetia) are rooted in the past: these were ancient Georgian lands and any South Ossetian unit outside Georgia would have infringed on the legal national interests of the Georgians.

It seems that the decision about two Osset autonomies (within Russia and Georgia) was the correct one: after all, both belonged to the same multinational state, the Soviet Union. The administrative border between them was no obstacle.

The Conflict’s Hidden Economic Springs

The relationships within the triangle formed by two Ossetias and Georgia (in which South Ossetia, to borrow an apt though rather cynical journalist comment, was “Russia’s bastard daughter”) were far from idyllic. Still the several decades old status quo was, on the whole, acceptable and never caused much tension.

Ethnic affiliation there or anywhere else across the country did not cause much trouble. Soviet people were much more concerned with life growing harder and the range of deficit products extending as the country “was progressing toward the material and technical basis of developed socialism and communism.”

Having failed to obtain an answer from the official authorities, people turned to unofficial organizations formed according to the ethnic and cultural principle. In 1988, South Ossetia experienced a bout of typhoid fever probably caused by inadequate living conditions that triggered formation of a national movement called Adamon Nykhas (Talking to People). At first, it mainly concentrated on economic problems and formulated economic demands; after a while it started talking about ethnic policies. By that time South Ossetian researchers had discovered by comparing wages and budget per capita spendings in Georgia and South Ossetia that the standard of living in the latter was much lower than in rest of the republic.11

The Soviet leaders proved unable to raise the living standards and to set realistic and politically attractive socioeconomic targets for the country—this was the system’s main fault that aggravated ethnic relations inside the Soviet Union. The Georgian-South Ossetian tension was part of the process.

First Victims of Gamsakhurdia’s Policies

Nationalism in Tskhinvali and chauvinism in Tbilisi were mounting as the socioeconomic situation declined. In the mid-1980s the wave of chauvinism was rising; it affected all ethnic minorities living in the republic, while the spontaneous movement of South Ossets for better economic conditions was becoming more and more obviously anti-Georgian. In September 1989, leader of the Party of National Independence of Georgia Irakliy Tsereteli said: “I am convinced that only autochthonous peoples should have autonomies—neither the Abkhazians nor Ossets are such peoples.”12 On 10 November the Regional Soviet of South Ossetia passed a decision that transformed the South Ossetian Autonomous Region into an autonomous republic within the Georgian S.S.R. The Supreme Soviet of Georgia annulled this decision; many thousands of members of unofficial public organizations went to Tskhinvali to organize a rally “in support of the Georgians in the autonomous region.” On 23 November, 1989 they were stopped by armed Ossets headed by the incumbent president of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoyty; first armed clashes followed and they continued until 1990.

Liquidation of Autonomy. New Phase of the Conflict

In December 1990, the conflict entered a new phase: on 9 December the republic elected its Supreme Soviet; on 11 December Chairman of the Georgian Supreme Soviet Gamsakhurdia acting contrary to common sense and the logic of political struggle convinced the parliament to abolish the South Ossetian Autonomous Region. Confrontation became even more acute: on the next day the state of emergency was introduced in the Tskhinvali and Djava districts.

This was how it all started. The conflict unfolded in earnest when after the Soviet Union’s collapse Tbilisi found itself face to face with the troublesome provinces (Abkhazia, Ajaria, Borchaly, Javakhetia, Imeretia, Svanetia, etc.). At the same time, the Meskhetian Turks evicted from Georgia under Stalin demanded the right to return to their historical homeland.

It was at that time that at a referendum in South Ossetia the majority voted for unification with North Ossetia. The more far-sighted of the Osset politicians doubted the feasibility of this: the world community had recognized Georgia’s territorial integrity while Russia (that was expected to accept the break-away autonomous region) would have never agreed on violating it.

Obviously, to cut the knot Tbilisi had to recognize South Ossetia as an administrative unit within the Georgian state. In fact, this has already been done at the official level: President Shevardnadze repeatedly condemned his predecessor’s chauvinist policy and recognized (according to the press) that this policy had been aimed at genocide of the Ossets.13 There is an opinion among the Ossets, however, that at the working level Tbilisi has not yet overcome its “imperial syndrome.”

On 16 May, 1996 in Moscow a Memorandum on the Security and Confidence-building Measures was signed in the presence of presidents Yeltsin and Shevardnadze. The South Ossetia ethnonym became part of the international legal context: this has restored historical justice in relation to the Ossets and done no harm to Georgia’s territorial integrity.

The Ossets are convinced, however, that since official documents offer no political assessment of the South Ossetian events, better ethnic relations cannot be achieved while certain Tbilisi-based movements are exploiting all sorts of documents to achieve their own pragmatic goals. The Georgian parliament and the media refer to the region as “so-called South Ossetia” or describe it by its Georgian names (Samachablo, Shida Kartli, the Tskhinvali District, etc.), which cannot create an atmosphere conducive to settlement.14

On the other hand, the leaders in Tskhinvali should have recognized the principle of Georgia’s territorial integrity. This would have made South Ossetia part of the federative Georgian state the autonomous status of which should have been discussed.


This was how events were developing after March 1992 when Eduard Shevardnadze came to power in Tbilisi. He did his best to remedy the harm done by Gamsakhurdia’s chauvinist policies. On 24 June, 1992 he met President Yeltsin in Dagomys (Sochi) where they signed an Agreement on the Principles of Settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian Conflict. Art 3 of the document envisaged a Mixed Control Commission (MCC) made up of the sides in the conflict and “mixed peacekeeping and law enforcement forces” (MPLF).

Moscow Memorandum

A Memorandum on the Security and Confidence-building Measures between the sides in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict signed in Moscow on 16 May, 1996 moved the process still further. Russian intermediary Mikhail Mayorov described the document as a sign of a psychological turn as a result of which the settlement process acquired positive dynamics. In March 1997, the first round of talks on a full-scale settlement took place in Moscow. It produced a protocol about the meeting, a joint statement on measures to restore and develop economy in the conflict zone and established an order in which the delegations were expected to work. Within the framework of the first round President Shevardnadze met South Ossetian leader L. Chibirov; the process of returning refugees and displaced persons to their homes began; the sides signed a protocol on cooperation between their law enforcement bodies.

In May 1997, Russia suggested that the sides should sign an interim Agreement on the Basic Political-Legal Relationships. This document serves as the foundation for the talks on the central issue, that of the future status of South Ossetia.

On the whole, the South Ossetian side is realistic about the possible outcome: Tskhinvali in principle agreed to accept the suggestions the Minsk OSCE Group had formulated for Nagorny Karabakh as a basis for its future status.

Abkhazian Shadow

At the same time, Tskhinvali cannot resolve the status issue all by itself: much depends on Tbilisi. Tskhinvali proceeds from the idea that its status should be equal to that of Sukhumi while Tbilisi is convinced that the status of all subjects of a future Georgian state should be lower than that of Abkhazia. In fact, there is no agreement in Tbilisi about the country’s future federative nature. In February 1997, presidential advisor on ethnic issues Gerassimov believed that Georgia could organize itself on the Russian Federation pattern and that the resultant asymmetric federation could comprise various subjects: purely Georgian ones (Imeretia and Kakhetia) as well as ethnically different units (Abkhazia and South Ossetia). The latter was listed together with the “purely Georgian” subjects, while it was recognized that Abkhazia should “have more rights” than “purely Georgian Kakhetia.”15

A comparison of the future statuses of Abkhazia and South Ossetia within Georgia with the planned status of Nagorny Karabakh within Azerbaijan and the already existing autonomies within the RF raises a question: How do ethnic units within a single state profit from a higher status?

Indeed, human rights and civil liberties should be observed in any case: international community has recognized that violations of human rights stopped being domestic concerns and became the concern of all its members. Today, it is impossible to imagine a situation in which observation of human rights depend on the status of any autonomy. In other words, a higher status for Abkhazia within a single Georgian state should not bring Abkhazians more privileges, while the lower status of South Ossetia should not deprive its people of human rights.

Irrespective of the status that can be described in quantitative terms, human rights and civil liberties are absolute: they should be observed in full under any status. This approach pushes the status issue to the background; it retains its importance for bureaucrats alone interested in the maximally great number of official structures. The issue comes to the fore when rights and freedoms of any ethnic group (be it in minority or majority) are infringed upon. In all other contexts the status issue has no historical significance and no value.

In the case of South Ossetia the situation is absolutely clear. Gamsakhurdia’s “neo-fascist” policies raised a nationalist wave in South Ossetia and revived the desire to unite with North Ossetia within Russia. Tskhinvali was convinced that in Russia ethnic rights could be better protected than in Gamsakhurdia’s Georgia. Even in post-Gamsakhurdia time South Ossetia treated Georgia with caution: indeed, it seems that Georgia’s smaller size as compared with Russia makes its political course less predictable.

In addition, even bogged down in a political and economic crisis Russia can extend economic aid to the South Ossets who have found themselves in a tragic situation; it was at the gravest post-crisis period that “electricity reached South Ossetian homes thanks to the electricity transmission line that connected the area with Vladikavkaz in Russia; it was laid in 1992-1993 in the very difficult mountainous conditions.”16

More Developments. End of the “Dagomys Impulse”

In February 1997, several public organizations of North Ossetia (the North Ossetian Regional Branch of the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia, the Republican CPRF Committee, the Council of the Veterans of War, Labor, and Law Enforcement Bodies, the Social-Patriotic Derzhava movement and others) issued a statement timed to coincide with the next MCC sitting in which they expressed their support for the South Ossetian people and their solidarity with it. It said, in particular: “For the fifth year running the people of South Ossetia have been living amid complete political, economic and cultural blockade for no fault of theirs. Aggression of Georgian nationalists and the genocide to which fighters for the purity of the Georgian nation and liberation of the Georgian state territory from ‘aliens’ exposed the Ossetian nation actually have driven South Ossetia outside Georgian borders.” The statement further said that talks on the conflict settlement and liquidation of its effects the four sides were engaged in, which would take place in Moscow, would produce positive results only if they proceeded from the real situation and took account of the results of the referendum and the striving of South Ossetia to self-determination, acquiring its own statehood, peace and agreement with all neighbors, including Georgians.17

Soon after that Tskhinvali moved further toward South Ossetia’s de facto independence. On 13 September, 1996 under pressure of the radical nationalist forces its Supreme Soviet instituted the presidential post and selected 10 November as the election date. Tbilisi reacted painfully: it branded the decision as an attempt at elevating the status of the self-proclaimed administrative unit even before the talks were completed.

President Shevardnadze stated that the decision of the South Ossetian parliament went against the agreements the sides had reached in Vladikavkaz when he met Chibirov, and added that the reconciliation process might be discontinued had the agreements been ignored. Tbilisi interpreted Tskhinvali’s explanation that the presidentship was needed as an instrument of curbing the radical opposition and sending the process along reliable and less turbulent lines as maneuvering with unpredictable results.18

Eduard Shevardnadze deemed it necessary to express his displeasure with the South Ossetian developments to the Russian intermediary. He discussed the problem in a telephone conversation with Anatoli Chubays, head of the presidential administration, who in his turn voiced his own concern with the Tskhinvali decision. Talking about it in a radio interview, the Georgian president emphasized the positive role the Russian peacekeeping forces had played in stemming bloodshed in South Ossetia and the positive effect of the meetings in Dagomys and Moscow held on President Yeltsin’s initiative. At the same time, he expressed concern of the Georgian leadership over the fact that in Tskhinvali and Sukhumi the Russian intermediaries were completely ignored while in Vladikavkaz when signing the settlement agreements Tbilisi fully relied on Moscow’s guarantees. He added that he could not understand the developments around the talks, since the regimes had been and remained under Russian patronage and had no other sources of support.19

While discussing mutually acceptable positions, Shevardnadze said that both Ossetia and Abkhazia tried to distance themselves from Tbilisi; they had never abandoned their political maneuvers, therefore the risk of arm clashes became even greater.20

In view of Tbilisi’s obvious displeasure the South Ossetian leaders hastened to re-adjust their position: in its statement the parliament said that “the need to embrace a new political form of government was prompted solely by the need to improve the power structure in the republic so that to harmonize it with new political and economic realities. This has nothing to do with the foreign policy pursued by the Tskhinvali authorities.” The South Ossetian Supreme Soviet reconfirmed its dedication to peaceful developments and stated that no departure from the earlier agreements registered in the memorandum signed by the sides and the final statement of the Vladikavkaz meeting could be tolerated. Having highly assessed the efforts of Russia and the interested sides designed to normalize the relationships between Georgia and Ossetia, the Supreme Soviet expressed its firm conviction that the “steps taken by the South Ossetian leaders toward the republic’s better political structure will be correctly interpreted by the authorities of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Georgia.” Leader of South Ossetia Chibirov made the following statement: “We are not going to change our political course. All changes that will take place in the republic are designed to adjust its status to the present-day realities both in the political and economic contexts.”21

These statements notwithstanding, presidential elections did take place in South Ossetia; Chibirov was elected president. One should say in all justice that the results strengthened the position of those in Tskhinvali and Tbilisi who wanted a prompt and just settlement. The newly-elected president overcame stiff opposition offered by extremists who said that by signing the memorandum he betrayed the cause of South Ossetian freedom and independence for which the republic had already paid with blood of hundreds of its sons.

The discussion that followed brought to light an important and hitherto hidden side of the conflict, namely, crime. It turned out that the republic lost less lives fighting Gamsakhurdia’s supporters than in armed clashes in the criminal community, armed robberies and plunder. The new republican leaders who came after Chibirov also insist on delivering the republic of “international” criminals.22

End of the “Soviet” Stage of the Conflict and Settlement Prospects

The post-Dagomys developments, especially those that followed the Moscow memorandum, throw into bolder relief the conflict’s hidden springs and exposed the myth about its “Soviet” roots. There is a widely accepted opinion that the so-called Soviet factor was the main source and the cause of the conflicts in Georgia: it was assumed that conservative-minded Soviet generals wanted to get even with Georgia for its share in the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Time has made these arguments void. The Soviet stage of the conflict came to an end in Dagomys in 1992 and in Moscow in 1996, so there can be no talk about “communist revenge.” Indeed, in which way can unification of two Ossetias recompense Moscow for the loss of the union Center?

The conflict is still smoldering because there are no instruments to be used instead of the old regulators that guaranteed (to some extent) coexistence of Georgians and Ossets (in both parts) within one state. To be good neighbors they need common interests that had appeared long before the Soviet Union came into existence; their common historical heritage survived its disintegration; today, they are looking for a new civilized form of such coexistence.

Regrettably, these efforts are often accompanied by attempts to create a “new balance of forces” with the help of third countries; it is quite often that the ways leading to restored friendly relations based on common cultural and historical heritage are deliberately ignored.

Recently, the Georgian and South Ossetian press has been paying much attention to the unfolding military cooperation between Georgia and the U.S. as a factor of pressure on the self-proclaimed units of the South Ossets and Abkhazians. These speculations serve no positive end—they might drive the nations still further apart. Tskhinvali has already voiced its concerns: “As soon as foreign military instructors and large batches of military materiel arrived in Georgia (allegedly needed to carry out an antiterrorist operation in Pankisi), statements about the need to return South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force started to be heard from Tbilisi.”23

Peacekeeping can be strengthened if Tbilisi and Moscow manage to overcome “hostility” absolutized by certain circles. The two capitals should not resolve the South Ossetian problem at the local people’s expense for the sake of their own mutual friendship, yet the shortest road to mutual trust badly needed for a political settlement lies through an active development of the objectively needed economic and cultural ties within the Tbilisi-Tskhinvali-Vladikavkaz-Moscow rectangular.

* * *

Today it is hard to forecast when the conflict will be finally settled—the same is true about all other conflicts on the post-Soviet territory. The situation is neither stable nor long-term: on the one hand, the unclear legal status of the citizens of the self-proclaimed republic interferes with the region’s economic development. On the other, an independent Georgian state cannot be regarded as a fully-fledged unit until it ensures its territorial integrity within its Soviet borders. Sooner or later the sides will arrive at political and economic solutions of the problems that divide them. Here are certain basic parameters of such solutions:

- The sides, Tbilisi in the first place, should avoid provocations that might stir up speculations about the use of force—this serves no positive purpose and plays into the hands of the criminal community, which both capitals officially condemn.

- None of the possible decisions will hold for any noticeable period of time unless it ensures human rights and civil liberties in the area in full conformity with the general European standards. Irrespective of the region’s possible status, the multinational population should be allowed to express their will fully and freely at least in three languages: Ossetian, Georgian, and Russian.

- South Ossetia will remain within Georgia only if its autonomy is recognized; Gamsakhurdia’s formula “There is no South Ossetia—there are Ossets living on the Georgian territory” should be publicly condemned and forgotten. (The conflict of 1989-1992 and its causes should receive an objective political and legal assessment.)

- Time has come to ensure an absolute freedom of economic and personal contacts between South Ossetia and North Ossetia-Alania.

- The region’s status and stability in the zone of the former conflict should be ensured by peacekeeping forces in which Russia should be invited to participate by all means. International community should extend considerable aid to the entire region (by this I mean the Southern Caucasus as a whole) to help it restore its economy and create an economic infrastructure in the new geopolitical and economic context.

To a great extent creation of these basic prerequisites for final settlement of all conflicts across the former Soviet Union depends on a possibility of a new democratic world order based on human rights and civil liberties rather than on the classical “balance of forces” principle.

1 See: P. Pliev, “Peregovorniy protsess budet prodolzhen. Vo Vladikavkaze proshlo ocherednoe zasedanie Smeshannoy kontrol’noy komissii,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 028 (1353), 15 February, 1997.
2 E. Sytaia, “Rossii neobkhodimo opredelit’sia s politikoy na Kavkaze. Takovo mnenie pomoshnika prezidenta Gruzii po natsional’nym voprosam Alekseia Gerasimova,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 21 (1346), 6 February, 1997.
3 See: A.A. Belavin, Chetvertaia pozitsiia, Udmurtskiy Universitet Press, Izhevsk, 1999.
4 The supporters of Gamsakhurdia, for example, for a long time refused to discuss Ossets’ autonomy and insisted that South Ossetia was a fiction, that there were Ossets living in Georgia. The Ossets were denied the right to have an autonomy in Georgia and the right to the name Ossetia. The territory on which they were living was called Samachablo, Shida Kartli according to the Georgian tradition. This was another irritant.
5 South Ossetia. Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
6 See: Hansjörg Eiff, Die OSZE-Mission für Georgien, Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheilspolitik an der Universität, Hamburg/Ifsh (Hrsg.), Osze-Jahrbuch 1995, Baden-Baden, 1995. S. 181.
7 See: South Ossetia.
8 See: “Zhizn’ naroda budet uluchshat’sia. Takogo mnenia v kanun vyborov priderzhivaetsia nyneshniy glava Respubliki Severnaia Osetia-Alania A. Galazov,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 244 (1569), 27 December, 1997.
9 See: South Ossetia.
10 See, in particular, Galazov’s interview referred to above.
11 See: D.G. Kabisova, Ekonomicheskie aspekty mezhnatsional’nykh problem. Izdanie Nauchnoissledovatel’skogo instituta IuOAO., Vladikavkaz, 1988.
12 Quoted from: O. Vassilieva, Gruzia—kak model’ postkommunisticheskoy transformatsii, Moscow, 1993, p. 62.
13 See: A. Pliev, “Trudnosti peregovornogo protsessa. Dvusmyslennost’ zakonov Gruzii meshaet resheniu problem avtonomii,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 105 (1430),10 June, 1997.
14 See: Ibidem.
15 E. Sytaia, op. cit.
16 K. Rodionov, “Granitsa ne dolzhna razdeliat’ narod. Deystvia FPS na Kavkaze sposobstvuiut rostu napriazhennosti,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 217 (1542), 18 November, 1997.
17 See: P. Pliev, “Peregovorniy protsess budet prodolzhen.”
18 See: N. Broladze, “Tskhinvali ne sobiraetsia otstupat’ ot dogovorennostey. Tem ne menee ofitsial’niy Tbilisi obespokoen proiskhodiashchim v respublike Gruzia,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 212, 12 November, 1996.
19 See: Ibidem.
20 See: Ibidem.
21 P. Pliev, “Tskhinvali ne sobiraetstia otstupat’ ot dogovorennostei. Tem ne menee ofitsial’niy Tbilisi obespokoen proiskhodiashchim v respublike Iuzhnaia Osetia,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, No. 212, 12 November, 1996.
22 See: E. Kokoyty, “Prezident Iuzhnoy Osetii: My zasluzhili pravo voyti v sostav Rossii! (Interview E. Kokoyty korrespondentu ‘Komsomol’skoy pravdy’),” Komsomol’skaia pravda, 18 December, 2002.
23 Ibidem.

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