South Ossetia is a partially recognized state in the South Caucasus. It has a population of 53,000. In 1991, South Ossetia declared its independence from the Georgian Soviet Republic. The Georgian government subsequently responded by trying to regain control over the region by force, which led to the 1991-1992 South Ossetia War. Fighting also occurred on two more occasions, in 2004 and 2008. The 2008 conflict led to the five-day Russo-Georgian War. As a result of this, Ossetian and Russian forces gained full de facto control of the region. Russia has since recognized South Ossetia’s independence as well as several other nations, but Georgia still does not consider South Ossetia to be an independent state.
Recently, on April 9th 2017, South Ossetia held presidential elections and also announced that they could hold a referendum on joining Russia after the elections. Anatoly Bibilov, the newly elected president and former parliamentary speaker, said:
“The will of the people of South Ossetia to join Russia is not a secret. There is an agreement with the [now former] president of the republic that the referendum must be held after the elections in 2017.”
Following the elections, Russian president Vladimir Putin congratulated the new South Ossetian president Bibilov, emphasizing Russia’s continuing assistance in ensuring the republic’s economic growth and security. Putin wrote in a telegram posted on the Kremlin’s website:
“I am certain that after your election the relations between our countries, based on principles of alliance and integration, will receive a further impetus. Russia will continue to provide full-scale assistance to S. Ossetia in resolution of current issues of social and economic development, as well as national security.”
South Ossetia also announced that nearly 80% of voters voted in favour of changing the republic’s name to Alania in a referendum that was held at the same as the presidential elections.
After the elections and the referendum took place, the head of the Russian State Duma’s delegation of observers Nikolay Govorin stated that the elections met generally accepted democratic principles and norms of fair elections.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, even before the elections took place the US announced that it would refuse to recognize the results. The Department of State said in a press release that, “The United stated sticks to its clear and consistent position that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are integral parts of Georgia.”
Later that same day, the now former South Ossetian president Leonid Tibilov reacted to the statements made by the US by saying the following:
“Of course, not everyone agrees with what is happening. We are free and we enhance our independence, sovereignty by ourselves, and if someone’s oversea patrons are against elections in South Ossetia, against the renaming of South Ossetia, we will not pay attention to it.”
Also unsurprisingly, the EU said it did not recognize the presidential elections nor the referendum on the name change, adding that the European Union reaffirmed its strong commitment to peaceful resolution of the conflict, including the EU co-chairmanship of the Geneva International Discussions and the EU Monitoring Mission.
Meanwhile, a poll carried out by the US-based International Republican Institute revealed that a total of 53% of Georgian nationals think the country should implement pro-Western foreign policy and at the same time maintain good relations and dialogue with Russia. Even the Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili expressed his readiness to minimize tensions with Moscow with the hope of eventually building friendly neighbouring relations with them. The Georgian president said in an interview:
“We have initiated a strategy of rational relations with Russia that would bring the tense tone in the relations between the states to a minimum. In this context, we have decided that it makes sense to talk about the issues where we do not have big differences.”
Margvelashvili pointed to some positive developments in ties between Russia and Georgia, such as improved trade and active tourism, but stressed that Russia must respect Georgia’s sovereignty.
Georgia was embroiled in one of a number of colour revolutions which focused on former Soviet republics. The one in Georgia was the Rose Revolution which was claimed by the western media to be a pro-Western peaceful change of power in Georgia in November 2003. The revolution was brought about by widespread protests over disputed parliamentary elections and culminated in the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze. The event derives its name from when demonstrators led by Mikheil Saakashvili stormed the Parliament session with red roses in hand.
There was no doubt this was western backed, in keeping with events which unfolded in e.g. Ukraine in 2014. The revolution triggered new presidential and parliamentary elections in Georgia, which established the United National Movement as the dominant ruling party.
Following the revolution, unsurprisingly, Georgia pursued a decidedly pro-Western foreign policy and declared European and Euro-Atlantic integration as the cornerstone of its foreign policy which contributed to ongoing tensions between Georgia and Russia to this day.
The fact that the EU, US and NATO denounced these elections is indicative of a fear that South Ossetia and Abkhazia may be the thin end of the wedge which will see Georgia rotate back towards Russia. It was clear that the western backed Rose revolution was designed to give the west a strategic toehold on the borders of Russia. The recent comments by Margvelashvili may just give a glimmer of light to the belief that the thawing of relations between Russia and Georgia is forthcoming. Ultimately of course, Georgia will fully rotate as the new paradigm gathers momentum and sees natural allies revert back to their traditional relationships, before the western cabal decided to instigate these colour revolutions.