What Will Become of South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Somewhat lost in the debate over the conflict in Georgia is what the long-term political future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has repeatedly called for Georgia’s territorial integrity to be respected, while Russia may have designs on annexing the separatist regions.

Most of the West probably feels a gut reaction that we ought to ensure the two regions permanently remain within the international boundaries of the democratic Georgia, but is that really consistent with a larger American “freedom agenda”? South Ossetia has twice voted with near unanimity for independence (though neither vote was recognized by the international community) and it is unlikely that the latest conflicts will endear the local population to the government in Tbilisi. Further, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have had de facto autonomy since they fought a civil war against Georgia following independence from the crumbling Soviet Union.

Our competing sensibilities on this issue come from the inherent difficulty in determining when the international community ought to recognize a breakaway region’s independence. This question is almost always intertwined with issues of ethnicity, religion, nationalism and language. Ossetians clearly see their political future distinctly from Georgia’s. Yes, Georgia (and America) might prefer to have these two regions integrated into the rest of Georgia, but the international community needs to realize that is unlikely to happen without the kind of tactics that the Soviet Union used to repress both Georgia and South Ossetia.

The coming negotiated settlement in the Caucasus will undoubtedly be dominated by the larger issues of Russian and Western tensions. In the interest of consistency, American and European negotiators should not be tempted to abandon democratic principles for mere power politics.


The views expressed in this blog do not represent the views or opinions of Generations United.