By Paul Goble
Leonid Tabilov, the president of South Ossetia, says that he and the Russians are working on a supplemental agreement that will include the units of the small armed forces of the republic within the Russian military, the latest example of the kind of creeping annexation of that breakaway republic into the Russian Federation.
In an article entitled “South Ossetia Will Enter Russia via the General Staff,” Svobodnaya pressa journalist Anton Mardasov says that Tabilov in his February 19th message nonetheless stressed that “the republic must preserve a numerically small but effective part of its own army” (svpressa.ru/war21/article/142925/).
That is necessary, the South Ossetian president said, so that his country will be “capable of solving military tasks” and responding to “diversionary-terrorist acts and provocations without the application by the Russian Federation of its own Armed Forces.” But the thrust of his message was that the 500-man South Ossetian force will be integrated into the Russian Army.
The supplemental agreement between Russia and South Osetia was supposed to be signed at the end of January, but the South Ossetian side was not ready. It had not drafted the portions of the accord having to do with the security services and military. And thus the two sides had to await the appearance of the Russian draft.
“At first glance,” Mardasov says, “news about the inclusion of a number of units of the Armed Forces of the republic into the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation looks like a sensation” because it represents the beginning of the unification of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation “via the military.”
Moreover, it addresses a serious problem. Because of high unemployment and the departure of many of its residents to Russian cities, the South Ossetian military has not been able to meet its draft quotas. Now, it will be able to count on Russian assistance. But in fact, this arrangement does nothing more than put on paper what is already a fact: the South Osetian army is “part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”
The real concern apparently is how the West may react to even this move, given that it appears to be a kind of creeping annexation of the breakaway republic especially because in the words of one expert Mardasov cites, “de facto South Ossetia is part of Russia,” even though it has been recognized by Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Tuvalu.
Moscow isn’t interested in moving further just now, Mardasov says; and statements by officials in South Ossetia about yet another referendum on unification with the Russian Federation are all about the domestic politics of the republic rather than a reflection of thinking in the Russian capital.