South Ossetia: The Crushing Weight of Faux Freedom
Where does Russia end and South Ossetia begin? Nearly two years after Moscow recognized its independence from Georgia, the breakaway enclave is suffering in the throes of Moscow’s smothering embrace, says a report released by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) on June 7. “South Ossetia is no closer to genuine independence now than in August 2008, when Russia went to war with Georgia and extended recognition,” ICG concludes.
The region's economy centers on menial tasks for the Russian military, which now accounts for about one-sixth of its diminishing population. Half of its de-facto government staff comes from Russia.
"Since recognition, South Ossetia has increasingly come
to resemble a North Caucasus republic, and Moscow’s
approach to it is similar," the report finds. "Over 80 per cent of North Caucasus republics’ budgets come from the federal centre,
and, as in South Ossetia, internal political dynamics mainly
revolve around the struggle for control of these resources."
So far, that control appears to have been fairly one-sided. The hefty $840 million in aid from the Kremlin has not trickled down to the population, but rather went into the pockets of South Ossetian officials, the report claims.
Meanwhile, the roughly 20,000 ethnic Georgians who fled South Ossetia during the 2008 war are still unable to return to their homes. Often, there are no homes to which to return; a "Moscow settlement" has sprung up in one former ethnic Georgian village.
Nor are chances for peace-making with Tbilisi anywhere on the horizon. "Reintegration with Georgia is not considered at any level,
even if there were to be a change of government in Tbilisi," says ICG.
The report concludes with a standard appeal for Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia to "address the needs and grievances of the population on the ground" -- an appeal that, if not met, runs the risk of "turning South Ossetia into a 'no man's land.'" [The International Crisis Group receives funding from the Open Society Institute. EurasiaNet.org is financed by OSI's Central Eurasia Project.]