So the Russians are saying they’ll withdraw from Georgia Real Soon Now. Meanwhile Moscow has signed treaties of mutual defense with the, you know, totally independent and sovereign nations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If Georgia makes a move — or something that Moscow thinks is a move, or wants to think is a move — Russia will intervene again, with as much force as it thinks appropriate.
Meanwhile Georgia, of course, has renewed its national commitment to recovering the lost territories. This includes building up its military, continued pursuit of NATO membership, and sucking up massive amounts of foreign aid from anyone who will give it, most notably the US.
Apropos of which, here’s a recent article in EurasiaNet that lays out some options: continued occupation a la Turkish Cyprus (most likely), formal partition, and internationalization (currently very unlikely, but who knows).
It’s a decent summary, but I do disagree with a few of the good professor’s points:
Under the first and most likely scenario, Abkhazia and South Ossetia will remain recognized by Russia and a handful of other countries, such as Nicaragua, that wish to curry favor with Moscow. We could refer to this as the “Cyprus model.” Under this arrangement, Russia ensures the dependency of the breakaway territories by stationing a permanent military contingent and keeping the de facto governments isolated from Georgia.
Actually, the breakaway territories have always been dependent on Russia. South Ossetia is landlocked and desperately poor; its government and economy are entirely dependent on Russia and have been since 1992. Abkhazia is in better shape, but only relatively; almost all of their trade is with Russia, and they too are heavily subsidized.
In the case of Cyprus, the Turkish military intervention of 1974 was followed by a relatively stable three decades, during which a sizable contingent of Turkish troops was stationed in the self-proclaimed Turkish Northern Republic of Cyprus (TRNC). During this time the sequestered TRNC languished, while the Greek-Cypriot part of the island developed rapidly, culminating in its admission to the European Union 30 years later.
The Cyprus model is less likely to stabilize Georgia. Unlike Cyprus or Northern Ireland, Georgia and the breakaway territories have no realistic hope of being absorbed by the European Union…
Perpetual unrecognized status also would have destructive economic consequences. Unable to forge “normal” economic ties with the world due to an international embargo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be forced to depend exclusively on Russian aid packages and fiscal transfers. Without official aid from international economic institutions, the de facto authorities and their security services would be forced to operate within the illicit economy and would exploit their unregulated legal status to engage in smuggling, trafficking and money laundering.
Feature, not bug. Russia has no interest in Abkhazia and South Ossetia being prosperous developing liberal economies with access to World Bank technical assistance and IMF loans. Russia likes having economically shaky gangster states for clients. Look at the last ten years in the North Caucasus. Or, for that matter, 1945-89 in Eastern Europe. Russian armies have installed and supported lot of regimes in various places over the last couple of centuries, and there is a pretty consistent trend.
What’s interesting — and sort of depressing — is that the war seems to have damaged the prospects for liberal democracy for all four parties. Not that those prospects were bright in Russia or South Ossetia anyhow, but still: all the participants are seeing a tightening of press controls, a strengthening of the nationalist line, and a general boost to the authoritarian pretensions of the current ruling class. And this is likely to get worse before it gets better… if it ever does get better.