By Paul Goble
After Moscow’s 2008 attack on Georgia opened the way for South Ossetia and Abkhazia to achieve the status of partially recognized states, many commentators suggested that the reason Moscow didn’t absorb South Ossetia was because it did not want to further alienate the West.
Later these analysts suggested that Moscow had not annexed South Ossetia, even after the Russian state illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea, because it did not want to alienate other countries in the former Soviet space who might have concluded that moves against South Ossetia following Crimea would make Russia more ready to make territorial demands against them.
But now, 15 years after the Russian attack on Georgia, two Russian analysts – Aleksandr Perendzhiyev of Moscow’s Economics University and Mikhail Neyzhmakov of the Agency of Political and Economic Communications – say in addition to these reasons, there are deeper ones in both Moscow and Tsinkval (svpressa.ru/politic/article/382684/).
Perendhiyev points out that the Soviets set up two Ossetias because of the differences that existed in them with one being on the north of the Caucasus crest and the other to its south. Geography hasn’t changed, and so there is every reason to think that the Russian government will follow what Moscow did earlier.
In addition, he says, there are three compelling reasons why the absorption of South Ossetia hasn’t happened: Ossetian elites are divided on this point, Moscow doesn’t want to absorb the social costs and other difficulties of taking in the region, and South Ossetia provides support for the Russian government on occasions when few if others do.
For Moscow, there is no reason to give that up. According to Perendzhiyev, the best way forward is to expand cooperation between the two Ossetias rather than talk about absorbing the southern one – and then having to face the problems arising from a single but much larger Ossetia within the Russian Federation.
Neyzhmakov agrees. But he suggests that the major reason Moscow hasn’t moved toward absorption is that it hopes to win over Georgia and would lose that possibility if it formally annexed South Ossetia. Consequently, he doesn’t expect any rapid moves toward absorption anytime soon.