8 August 2008


On the face of it, there are few places in the world less worth fighting over than South Ossetia. It is a barren and desperately poor mountainous area in the north Caucasus, about the same area as Suffolk, with a population of around 70,000 – the same as Lowestoft – of whom two-thirds are (or were in the 1990s) ethnic Ossetians and Russians and one-third ethnic Georgians.
During the brief period of Georgian independence after the overthrow of Tsarism in 1917, South Ossetia was part of Georgia, where the revolutionary government was Menshevik (helped by first German and then British military protection, the latter shamefully withdrawn by David Lloyd George). And it remained in Georgia under successive Soviet constitutions after the country was invaded and subjugated by the Bolsheviks in 1921, albeit as an "autonomous" region.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Georgia won its independence again, and the old communist apparatus in South Ossetia (with backing from the Kremlin) declared UDI. Ever since, South Ossetia has been a rogue Russian satrap regime, a mini-mini-me for the ex-KGB crew who control the Russian state – and (of course) a safe haven for former-Soviet mafiosi.

It has been refused recognition by the rest of the world – as has Abhkazia, the north-western bit of Georgia that was the beach-holiday destination of the Soviet elite. (Abhkazia is a bigger problem: about the size of Lincolnshire, with a population equal to that of Milton Keynes, but also run by the Kremlin and its tame crooks.)

I have no idea how the military operations of the past couple of days – started it seems by a Georgian move (under serious provocation) to clear out Vladimir Putin's bent South Ossetian puppets, but escalated by Russia – will develop. But right now it's looking horribly like a naked attempt by Moscow to reassert its dominance of its "near abroad" just as it did in Germany 1953, Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 and Afghanistan 1979. All because Georgia wants to join Nato and rather too many European governments are worrying about the price of gas rather than democratic principle.

There's a good post here on the Guardian website. This is good too, from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (which despite its origins has been reliable as a source for a long time). It's looking like it's going to be solidarity-with-Georgia time – and this is a lot closer to home than most people think.

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