Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a treaty with South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia, that will effectively annex the region to Russia early next week. The Treaty of Alliance and Integration allows Moscow to control its foreign policy, border, and security.
Russia gained control of South Ossetia after the fall of the Soviet Union and tightened its grip after the brief 2008 Russo-Georgia War, but the treaty will make everything official. Thomas de Waal, a journalist and expert on the Caucasus, described it as “Russia swallowing South Ossetia.”
“Effective annexation is the word,” he explained. “Is there any way back? Never say never–if the border with Georgia opens again, it makes much more sense for S Ossetia to be part of the economic space of Georgia.”
The 2008 war drove out 192,000 people, and only 21,000 voted in an election in June. South Ossetia’s small population appears to approve of the development since two articles “stipulate that government salaries and pensions in South Ossetia will be raised to the level of those received in the Russian North Caucasus.” Some disapprove, but the government suppresses their voice. Quartz reported the opposition party’s website was blocked last year.
Russia and Abkhazia, another Georgian breakaway region, signed a similar pact in November. Former KGB agent Raul Khajimba, the region’s new president, took over in August after the opposition rallied against Alexander Ankvab. The Kremlin allegedly had a hand in Ankvab’s removal. Al Jazeera reported that Russia was one step closer to annexing Abkhazia. This agreement bequeathed Russia a “dominant role in military and economic policy.” Due to poverty, the region’s 240,000 people rely on Russia. Moscow doubled “its subsidies to Abkhazia to about $200 million.” The West and Georgia condemned the agreement.
The Russian government is facing a crisis triggered by sanctions, low oil prices, and the falling value of the ruble. What does South Ossetia have to offer Russia? De Waal cannot find any strategic interests in the tiny country. But it is another way to irritate the West. After all, Putin claims Western nations are “simply intent on ousting him and weakening Russia.”
The United States and the European Union placed sanctions on Russia due to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine’s internal affairs last year. Tensions spiked in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea, Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula, in March, following Ukraine’s ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Since then, east Ukraine has been plagued by a destructive civil war between the pro-West government in Kiev and pro-Russian separatists.
In June, former Georgian Prime Minister and representative to NATO Ambassador Grigol Mgaloblishvili told Breitbart News, “Russia intends to cripple much of Eastern Europe to maintain it in a state of ‘constant chaos’ [so] that it can control the region.” The constant hot air and no action against Russia only “emboldened” the government to continue. Moscow annexed Crimea without any real punishment; therefore, “it can keep moving.”