|President Medvedev talks to President Bagapsh in Sukhumi.|
Two years ago this weekend Georgian shells started to rain down on South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali. The robust military action which Russia took to defend the contested breakaway republic is still a matter of controversy.
However, the European Union’s fact-finding report confirmed, unequivocally, that acts of aggression from Georgia marked the beginning of the conflict. The document bolstered the case for governments in the US and EU to reconsider their reflexive backing for President Saakashvili.
The regime in Tbilisi continues to show, periodically, an authoritarian bent, and its behaviour is still erratic. Saakashvili’s military gamble, which briefly threatened to push the US into direct confrontation with Russia, now looks like a massive miscalculation.
Dmitry Medvedev marked the war’s anniversary by visiting Abkhazia, the other Black Sea region whose unilateral declaration was accepted by the Kremlin, in the wake of conflict. Recognition comes at a price and the investment programmes which the Russian President unveiled are dependent on economic reforms, which will integrate the two tiny republics’ economies with Russia’s.
Moscow argues that harmonisation and the free movement of goods are necessary, if South Ossetia and Abkhazia are to prove viable entities. In Tskhinvali, where there is support for a united Ossetia within the Russian Federation, that proposition is uncontroversial. In the Abkhazian capital, Sukhumi, there is a more independent spirit and Russia’s mentorship is viewed as a necessity, rather than an end in itself.
Certainly, for the region’s stability, and for the citizens of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the republics’ economic rehabilitation is a necessity. Before the war the most likely solution to the problem of these breakaway areas was an acceptance of autonomy by Georgia. Having tasted recognition, albeit limited, of their statehood, that is unlikely to satisfy the governments in Sukhumi or Tskhinvali any longer.