The situation in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone is escalating and it is now evident that the sides are on the brink of a large-scale conflict. Naturally, Tbilisi and Tskhinvali (the capital of South Ossetia) have different interpretations of the events that led to the deterioration of the situation. Officially, Tbilisi said that the first provocation was an attack on Georgian peacekeepers in the South Ossetian village of Vanati and the 50 Georgian peacekeepers who were taken hostage. The South Ossetian authorities have announced that their law enforcement agencies "were carrying out an operation to find and detain armed individuals without identification who were illegally in the republic."
Tbilisi blames these developments on Eduard Kokoity, the president of South Ossetia whom Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvaniya has described as "political adventurer," but also ... Moscow. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said, "the main responsibility for the current situation lies not with Eduard Kokoity, but with Russia and Russian peacekeepers that should be doing everything to bring Tskhinvali to its senses." Mr. Kokoity noted that Georgia was provoking the situation by ignoring South Ossetia's peaceful initiatives and deploying troops on the border. The South Ossetian president said that he had received calls from volunteers from the North Caucasus who were ready to defend the republic and that there was a very high probability that he would "accept help from our North Caucasian brothers." It is easy to imagine the level the conflict could reach if it involves volunteers from neighboring regions, including Russia's North Ossetia.
Relations between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali first deteriorated in 1990 when Zviad Gamsakhurdia, then the president of Georgia, resorted to using force to crush the republic's push for independence. During the Soviet Union, the republic was a Georgian autonomy. At the request of both sides, Russian peacekeepers intervened and stopped the bloodshed. The Russian peacekeepers have maintained security in the area since then.
Presently, Tbilisi controls just 40% percent of South Ossetia. The rest of the republic does not recognize Georgia's authority and does not participate in Georgian presidential or parliamentary elections. Tskhinvali has repeatedly said, "South Ossetia is an independent state because it approved a declaration of independence on December 9, 1990. " The self-proclaimed republic holds its own parliamentary and presidential elections.
During Eduard Shevardnadze's rule in Georgia, the situation in the conflict zone was relatively quiet, as the experienced Tbilisi politician knew that it was impossible to solve the complicated problem at once and did not force the issue. The situation changed after Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in Georgia. His election campaign was based on the promise to reunite the country, which was undoubtedly appealing to voters who were dissatisfied with both the economic and political situation in a divided Georgia. Mr. Saakashvili's first move to unite the country was a success. He managed to oust Aslan Abashidze who many years was Adzharia's leader. The bloodless operation, which, was accompanied by threats of the use of force, seems to have inspired Mr. Saakashvili so much that he immediately began work on the second phase of Georgia's reunification.
Moscow helped to end the Georgian-South Ossetian military conflict in 1990-1991 and stopped Georgia's war with Abkhazia in 1992. Russian peacekeepers are still on duty, ensuring the security of Georgians, Abkhazians and South Ossetians. Russia has always supported Georgia's territorial integrity and still believes that it should be preserved, but at the same time, Moscow feels Tbilisi's use of force against the autonomies is inefficient and dangerous.
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