South Ossetia to Russia: Annex Me, Please
If Russia is looking for more land to grab, breakaway South Ossetia is interested. “Inspired” by the example of Crimea, South Ossetia’s separatist leader said on June 2 that his tiny Caucasus region can’t wait to glue itself to the Russian Federation.
“This historic moment should come,” said de-facto President Leonid Tibilov, news agencies reported. “We have good chances of becoming part of Russia.”
Following Russia's gobbling of Crimea, many wondered what next separatism-prone territory would end up in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation collection. So far, separatists in Ukraine’s East, Moldova’s Transnistria and Georgia’s South Ossetia have raised their hands.
“Here in South Ossetia we were excited to watch the Russian leadership deciding to reunite Crimea with Russia,” elaborated Tibilov dreamily. “We are happy for the people of Crimea, who finally have a home.”
The separatist leader said that the Crimea experience had created a wisp of hope in South Ossetian hearts that someday the same can happen to them.
The attraction for these individuals lies due north, in the Russian Federation's North Ossetia, seen locally as the region's Siamese twin. The two have been separated since 1922.
But whether or not Moscow has the incentive to try and reunite them remains unclear.
Former appeals by South-Ossetian politicians for a merger have not gotten too far. South Ossetia, which houses hundreds of Russian troops and functions on a ruble-life-support-system, essentially already is tied to Moscow's apron strings.
Popular support within Russia for tying it still tighter might run slim. The tiny region offers none of the seaside advantages -- whether for spas or security -- that Crimea does and carries none of the historical symbolism.
Yet widespread expectations exist that, despite assurances to the contrary, Moscow, after Ukraine's revolution, is on the lookout for creative ways to meddle with Georgia's upcoming association agreement with the European Union. And, separately, its persistent push for NATO membership.
Could South Ossetia possibly provide one option?
Granted, slurping up South Ossetia would not sit well with the Kremlin’s once-energetic campaign to secure international recognition of the territory's independence, and that of its breakaway buddy, Abkhazia, from Georgia.
But Moscow is not usually one to bother about such inconsistencies.
Tibilov, for one, is not likely to point them out. The separatist leader says he understands that there are some formalities to sort through before merging with Russia, such as holding a referendum and so on, and that that will take some time.
In the meanwhile, though, he appears content to wait . . . for the right moment to strike, and for love to have its way.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.