Conflicts in Georgia: Learning lessons, exploring alternative options
Originally published in The Slovak Foreign Policy Association
Publication title – Frozen ground: Role of the OSCE in protracted conflicts
When discussing the conflicts in Georgia two important components should be take into account: Firstly, the wars of the 1990s in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were the combined result and logical culmination of distrust between the leadership of the central government and various ethnic groups living in independent Georgia, inexperience of the central and local ruling elites in handling ethnic diversity and managing crises and the non-existence of democratic institutions that would have enabled the opposing groups to resolve their differences through non-violent means.
Secondly, Russia played an important role in sustaining the status quo of frozen conflicts and retained the leverage to escalate the situation, as was the case in 2008. Arguably, the 2008 Georgian–Russian war did not really change the two-dimensional nature of the conflicts; it merely elevated the degree of Russian influence and involvement in the Georgian conflicts which, in turn, overshadowed their ethnic component.
Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent republics in 2008 has in fact increased their isolation from the rest of the world and dependence on Russia. Yet, Russia’s unconditional support has hardened the negotiating position of the de facto entities vis-à-vis the Georgian authorities in the official negotiations, while the Russian omnipresence in Abkhazian and South Ossetian politics, their security sectors and economies means the Kremlin is the decision-maker not only on regional security or foreign policy issues, but on the local, internal affairs of these entities as well.