South Ossetia downsizing its military
How big a military does South Ossetia need? RFE/RL's Caucasus Report blog flags an interview with the territory/country's new defense minister, Colonel Valery Yakhnovets (the fifth consecutive Russian army officer to hold that post, incidentally) in a Russian newspaper:
Since the spring of this year, some 1,000 South Ossetian military personnel have been demobilized in line with what Yakhnovets termed a "political decision" on the part of de facto President Eduard Kokoity. Echoing concerns voiced by observers in Tskhinvali, Yakhnovets said further downsizing could lead to "social tensions."
In an apparent bid to mollify servicemen forced into early retirement, the South Ossetian authorities recently announced a program to provide them with loans to open their own businesses....
Yakhnovets also denied having criticized Kokoity's edict on downsizing the armed forces. He said that at the time of his appointment, manpower stood at 1,250 men, and that further cuts were inadvisable. Yakhnovets further suggested that the up to 1,000 military personnel who have already been demobilized could either enlist at the Russian military base in South Ossetia, or find employment in the construction sector.
These seem like very small numbers to me. When I briefly visited South Ossetia three years ago, it seemed like every other man on the street in Tskhinvali was in uniform. But perhaps they were Russian uniforms:
One night at the Café Farn, where I had gotten to know many of the regulars, a burly, jolly, and extremely drunken man comes over. "He's spetsnaz"—a special-forces soldier—one of my friends at the table tells me. "Russian or South Ossetian spetsnaz?" I ask. "Russian," he says, to the visible discomfort of the other people at the table. "Well, Russian and South Ossetian," he says. "But never mind," he adds and pours a round of vodka shots.
Given that Yakhnovets's discussion of downsizing the military revolves around jobs for the demobilized soldiers rather than any military effectiveness question, it just reinforces everyone's impression that South Ossetia has very little to do with its own security, and that its reliance on Russia shows no signs of lessening.