Russia Signs Integration Treaty with South Ossetia

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting at his country residence outside Moscow, October 13, 2014 (Kremlin)

On the one-year anniversary of its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Russia signed an integration treaty with Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia, seemingly paving the way for absorbing that territory as well.

In Moscow, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a twenty-five-year pact with his self-declared South Ossetian counterpart, Leonid Tibilov, under which Russia takes responsibility for the region’s borders and security and South Ossetia gets €140 million in aid over the next three years. Russia has already given the region €670 million in the last six years.

The treaty is similar to one Russia signed with Georgia’s other breakaway region, Abkhazia, late last year. Read more “Russia Signs Integration Treaty with South Ossetia”

Abkhaz Leaders Wary of Russian Integration Proposal

A street in Sukhumi, capital of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, May 12, 2009
A street in Sukhumi, capital of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, May 12, 2009 (WomEOS)

A Russian proposal to deepen security cooperation with the breakaway Georgian territory of Abkhazia is meeting resistance not just from Tbilisi but the region itself. While the separatist enclave on the Black Sea coast has few allies besides Russia, it is reluctant to surrender sovereignty to it.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, acting Abkhaz president Valeri Bganba said Russia’s proposals were unacceptable. When lawmakers were presented with the details last week, the reaction was “close to” negative, he said, “because many points are about losing sovereignty.”

Russia proposes to merge the Abkhaz and Russian forces stationed in the area and give itself the right to take command of the joint force in times of crisis.

Abkhazia has depended on Russian economic and military support since it seceded from Georgia in 1993. Georgia most recently attempted to retake control of the territory in 2008 when it also attacked South Ossetia, another breakaway province. Without Russian support, it is doubtful the two statelets would have been able to withstand the Georgian offensive.

Under a proposed treaty, Abkhazia would also harmonize its customs and tax regulations with those of the Eurasian Economic Union which is due to go into effect next year. Besides Russia, the trade bloc includes Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan, another former Soviet republic in Central Asia, has expressed an interest in joining.

In order to entice Abkhazia to accept the proposal, Russia has promised to pay for the increases in Abkhaz pensions and public-sector salaries needed to align them with those in Russia.

South Ossetia is more enthusiastic about integration. Following Russia’s occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March, its leaders openly called on Russia to annex them as well. So did lawmakers in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria.

Russia is one of few countries that recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. It does not recognize Transnistria as such.

Georgia described the proposed Russian treaty as yet another attempt to seize control of its territory. President Giorgi Margvelashvili called on parliament and the country’s international partners to act.

Saakashvili’s Successor: Georgia’s “European Course” to Continue

Georgia’s newly-elected president said on Monday he would press ahead with efforts to deepen the Caucasus nation’s ties with the West even as Mikheil Saakashvili’s election defeat cleared the way for rapprochement with Russia.

“Europe is our choice and this election is a confirmation of our European course,” Giorgi Margvelashvili, an academic and political novice, told a news conference.

Margvelashvili, who briefly served as education minister, was little known and elected on behalf of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition mainly because voters were tired of Saakashvili’s tenure as president which lasted almost ten years. Read more “Saakashvili’s Successor: Georgia’s “European Course” to Continue”

Georgia’s Saakashvili Concedes Election Defeat

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili conceded defeat on Tuesday after early results in the Caucasus nation’s hotly contested election showed the opposition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in the lead for a majority.

Earlier in the night, Saakashvili had insisted that his United National Movement, which previously held 80 percent of the seats in the parliament, would emerge as victor once again but with 25 percent of the votes counted, Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition had 53 percent compared to 42 percent for the president’s party. Read more “Georgia’s Saakashvili Concedes Election Defeat”

Heated Election Challenges Saakashvili’s Grip on Power

Georgians head to the polls on Monday in a fiercely contested parliamentary election that is dominated by the Caucasus nation’s relations with neighboring Russia and concern about the state of political freedoms under the leadership of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Saakashvili’s United National Movement and the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, are both liberally conservative. The ruling party, which currently holds nearly 80 percent of the seats in parliament, has accused Ivanishvili of being a stooge of Russian president Vladimir Putin, however, who supposedly poured billions into his election campaign. The former businessman, who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s, denies that he is a “Kremlin project” and vows to repair ties with Moscow, but not at the expense of the country’s Western orientation. Read more “Heated Election Challenges Saakashvili’s Grip on Power”

Iran Strike Could Destabilize Caucasus, Energy Transits

If Israel, unilaterally or with support from the United States, attacks Iran to disrupt its nuclear program, it could have the unintended consequence of destabilizing the Caucasus and emboldening Russia.

Last week, the European Union Monitoring Mission in the area reported a “buildup of Russian Federation armed personnel” along the South Ossetian border with Georgia. The former Georgian province, which has a majority ethnic Russian population, seceded in 1990 and was recognized as an independent state by Moscow after a brief war in 2008.

The increase in Russian troop presence may have to do with the fact, as Robert Bruce Ware writes at Antiwar, that Russia expects a strike against Iran before the end of this year and sees an opportunity to strengthen its position in the region. Read more “Iran Strike Could Destabilize Caucasus, Energy Transits”