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Georgia v South Ossetia: from conflict to war

By Ivan Simic - posted Tuesday, 19 August 2008

On August 8, 2008, South Ossetia attracted the world's attention when Russian military forces entered Georgian territory, and seriously interfered in the Georgian-South Ossetian unresolved conflict. This conflict is well known to the world, yet, the Russian military intervention has helped amplify the dispute.

South Ossetia is a small region in the South Caucasus within the territory of Georgia. It has been de facto independent from Georgia since its declaration of independence as the Republic of South Ossetia in 1990; however, South Ossetia continues to be part of Georgia, since it was not diplomatically recognised by any member of the United Nations.

Georgia was part of the Soviet Union from 1922 until its independence in 1991. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia has been facing many difficulties: first, there was civil unrest and economic crises, then came a Revolution in 2003, when then President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze was ousted from power; and, finally, the unresolved secessionist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia - Russia's allied regions.


We may recall the genesis of the current situation was precipitated by the 1918-1920 Georgian-Ossetian conflict. Later, in 1922 the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast was created after Soviet occupation of Georgia. In the 80s, the conflict was followed by rising nationalism in the former the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, the South Ossetian desire for greater autonomy, Ossetian demands for unification with Russia's North Ossetia, and persistent Ossetian declarations of independence.

The Georgian-South Ossetian conflict evolved from, in 1989, an ethno-political conflict, to civil war in January 1991. War was fought between Georgian government forces and ethnic Georgian militias on one side and South Ossetian secessionists and North Ossetian volunteers on the other, with the periodic participation of Russian military forces.

Russian officials, including the then President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin, made supporting statements for Ossetians. The war ended in June 1992 when the Head of the State Council of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze and the Russian President Boris Yeltsin met to discuss the question of South Ossetia. By some estimates, about 3,000 people were killed in that war.

In May 2004, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili offered humanitarian aid to both the Georgian and Ossetian population in South Ossetia and promised to give the region broad autonomy; however, that did not stop the violence. A new conflict between South Ossetians and Georgians forces began in mid June 2004 when Georgian forces closed the Ossetian main supply market for tax-free goods from Russia in order to stop smuggling.

In retaliation, South Ossetian forces blocked the highway between Georgia and Russia. Later, Georgian forces intercepted Russian convoy with military equipment, including missiles. This interception created tension between Georgia and Russia, and the subsequent incarceration of about 50 Georgian peacekeepers by South Ossetian militants. In mid August 2004, a ceasefire agreement was signed, but just a few days later, was violated.

In January 2005, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili presented a new plan for resolving the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict. This proposal included broader forms of autonomy, including a constitutional guarantee of free and directly elected local self-governance. Among others, President Saakashvili stated that South Ossetia's parliament would have control over issues such as culture, education, social policy, economic policy, public order, organisation of local self-governance and environmental protection. No agreement was signed, although the United States government and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) supported Georgia’s action plan.


In September 2006, South Ossetian forces opened fire at a Georgian helicopter carrying Irakli Okruashvili, the Minister of Defence of Georgia. The South Ossetian de facto government confirmed their troops were responsible for the attack, alleging that the helicopter had entered their air space. Later in September 2007, Irakli Okruashvili was arrested on charges of extortion, money laundering, and abuse of power while still Georgia's Defence Minister. A Georgian court found him guilty and sentenced him to 11 years imprisonment in absentia. However, Okruashvili did not go to jail, he was granted political asylum in France.

In May 2007 the President of Georgia appointed Dmitry Sanakoyev as the Head of the South Ossetian Provisional Administrative Entity. Sanakoyev's new resolution plan earned approval from the United States government, but not Russia's. This move alarmed the de facto authorities in South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali, and without any delay, South Ossetian separatists ordered that traffic to ethnic Georgian villages be blocked, and threatened to overthrow Sanakoyev's government by force.

In July 2007, Georgia set up a State Commission, chaired by the Georgian Prime Minister, Zurab Noghaideli, to develop South Ossetia's autonomous status within the Georgian State.

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About the Author

Ivan Simic is an political analyst and author based in Belgrade, Serbia. For the past decade, He has worked in various fields, including: business, diplomacy, and government. He has written many articles and critiques or supported theories concerning global issues and international relations. Currently, He is pursuing diplomatic carrier on international level.

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