Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tightrope

The two remaining breakaway regions in northern Georgia, for those interested, are fascinating accidents of history. Ethnic tensions aside, there’s no especially good reason for their de facto independence—it makes little economic sense, and no one recognizes their sovereignty, excepting one another.

The situation in South Ossetia is one of those precarious balances that never quite slips. Three recent bombings in the region (two in the capital, one in an outlying village) sound like the sort of thing that ought to destabilize the region. Georgian and South Ossetian authorities have dutifully accused one another of instigating the violence. Nonetheless, things continue to plod along as they are—sporadic violence is the norm.

Meanwhile, the new Georgian minister for conflict resolution has announced that Tbilisi will continue its current policy of peaceful conflict resolution. This might ring truer, South Ossetian officials contend, had the outgoing minister not been sacked for opposing the use of force. (Tbilisi has not in fact provided reasons publicly for his dismissal.)

The international consensus on Georgia’s breakaway regions has been in favor of Georgian unity from the outset (probably rightly, in my view). Likely, Georgia has not enforced this militarily for a few reasons. For one, they lost wars in both breakaway regions to begin with, and would need a significant show of strength to do better a second time around. Two, the regions are backed by Russia. Three, a military assault on the regions would strain (to say the least) the goodwill Georgia has enjoyed with the west since the Rose Revolution a few years ago. Authorities in Tskhinvali and Sukhumi, of course, know all this—their precarious independence is balanced on it.

Tbilisi, seems to me, is willing to sit tight meanwhile, so long as they believe the international community will continue to insist on reunification. The regions will sit tight so long as they have a large patron to the north and so long as they have, as they do, little other choice. The international community continues to pick at one or another peace process, but its hard to see progress happening. The status quo holds because no one knows how to improve it.

Links on the subject:

BBC profiles of Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia.
NYTimes article on tourism in the former breakaway region of Ajaria.
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