Ghia Nodia, a professor of politics at Ilia State University, has a rather oddly argued piece in RFE/RL suggesting that Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008 has brought few benefits for Moscow. Without going too much in to the contours of Professor Nodia’s argument, I would say that the opposite assertion is almost certainly more likely. It seems clear that Russia has achieved a number of its strategic goals: 1. It has undercut Saakashvili, who has proven a thorn in Moscow’s side; 2. It has destroyed Georgia’s bid for NATO membership (given that territorial integrity is a key stipulation for new members); 3. It has strengthened its control over two regions along its border, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, 4. It has delivered a powerful message about its willingness to use force to settle political disputes, arguably strengthening its hand in foreign relations; 5. By extension, it has reestablished a degree of control over its near abroad, where Moscow has long worried that the US — and increasingly China — have been steadily gaining a foothold.
One need only consider this recent Crisis Group report on South Ossetia to realize the extent to which Russia has dismembered Georgia and bolstered its own influence in the region. Moscow provides nearly all South Ossetia’s budget, staffs many key government positions, and has made the breakaway region almost entirely reliant on Russian market access (since the border with Georgia is virtually closed.) Meanwhile, Russia has also taken control of the larger responsibilities of the South Ossetian government — foreign affairs, national defense, etc — while leaving the local authorities control over issues like education and internal security. They have also signed an agreement with the South Ossetian government for a 49-year lease for a Russian military base.
In other words, there is little indication that Russia is moving towards loosening its grip on South Ossetia (or Abkhazia, for that matter, where the situation is not that much different with regards to Russia’s expansive role.) Of course, this Russian entrenchment clearly violates the Sarkozy-brokered cease fire. But Russian officials say that recent bilateral accords — namely, agreements that were signed between Russia and South Ossetia that grant Russia the right to guard the region’s borders — have superseded the legitimacy of the Sarkozy agreement.
Photo credit: (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP)