South Ossetia to Russia: Go Ahead, Crimea Me!
While Russia is on a land-grabbing binge, South Ossetia hopes Moscow will not forget about its aspirations, too. The region’s separatist leadership is drawing up an agreement meant to insert the disputed territory into the Russian Federation.
The agreement is influenced by a recent integration plan that Moscow offered to South Ossetia’s separatist twin, Abkhazia, but reportedly goes far beyond it. Both regions maintain de-facto independence from Georgia and almost existentially rely on backing from Russia. Abkhazia, however, insists on some ground rules in its relationship with Moscow, such as keeping space for sovereignty.
Many Abkhaz construed Russia’s recently proposed Agreement on Alliance and Integration as a plan for creeping annexation. The region’s separatist parliament, reworked the accord and came up with its own draft, renamed the Agreement on Strategic Partnership.
The particulars of the changes made by the Abkhaz remain under wraps, but, reportedly, they took out the clause on bilateral simplification of naturalization of each other’s citizens. Also, reportedly, axed was the most contentious part that proposed to allow Russians to take the command of a joint military force in times of war in Abkhazia.
But if the Abkhaz found the Russian integration plan overbearing, the South Ossetians believe that such a deal would not be going far enough. “The version of the agreement, which is being prepared for signing between Russia and Abkhazia, would not reflect all the yearnings of the South Ossetian people, their aspirations for the Russian Federation,” said the region’s de-facto parliamentary speaker, Anatoly Bibilov.
Apparently sensing that there’s no time like the present, he noted that the South Ossetian accord will be ready by year’s end.
Georgia, which hopes to regain control over the two regions and bring hundreds of thousands of displaced ethnic Georgians back to their homes, is watching with alarm what it sees as Moscow moving pieces around on its territory.
In the latest attempt to lure the separatists back into the fold, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili offered the two regions a broad autonomy and sharing of the prospective benefits of Georgia’s integration with the European Union. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia dismissed the offer as being out of touch.
Georgia’s Reforms Associates, a Saakashvili-friendly, Tbilisi-based think-tank led by former officials, called on the Georgian government to come-up with an “anti-annexation” strategy.
To counter the continued Russian takeover of Georgia’s de-jure territories, the group recommended Tbilisi taking Russia to international courts, launching a vocal and consistent diplomatic campaign for international sanctions and using Georgia’s leverage as a World Trade Organization member to try block Russia’s policies toward the two regions.
Georgia held a National Security Council meeting on October 28 to discuss what tactic to adopt toward Russia's Abkhazia plans, but no official sign that any of these ideas might be in the works.