Once again, Russia and its rather interesting foreign policy have made the news. You’re probably wondering, which state have they annexed now, or where Putin has decided to ‘secretly’ deploy Russian soldiers this time.
No need to wonder anymore; the answer is South Ossetia. Unless you were paying attention a few years back, you probably know little about the importance of South Ossetia. In fact, it’s rather unlikely that you’d be able to pinpoint it on a map, though the more agile minded of you may come out with phrases such as ‘south of North Ossetia…?’ In fact, it, and another region by the name of Abkhazia were both seized by Russia following the invasion of Georgia in 2008. And, whilst the European nations were all focussed upon the Greek debt crisis this weekend, the Russian troops stationed in South Ossetia have advanced the borders of the region deeper into Georgian territory.
This kind of move by Putin is hardly a unique tale. We’ve seen similar things happening a lot in recent years; look no further than the annexation of the Crimea if you disagree. Russian foreign policy has been aggressive, and not afraid in the slightest of the use of military force whilst telling the world that there are no Russian forces in the vicinity of the violence. The particular importance of this small annexation, however, is that a major oil pipeline runs through a part of the seized territory.
The importance of this pipeline was shown during the 2008 war, after the other major pipeline operated by BP in the area had to be shut down, leaving it the sole route through which oil could be shipped to the Western markets by BP in the area. Thus, the seizure of this land is not just a half- hearted attempt to keep the Georgian government on its toes, but instead is a direct threat to the West. However, this is not the only issue; a major highway runs only a few hundred metres from the new border, one that was used by Russian tanks to advance at high speeds into Georgia.
Some believe this move to be a form of retaliation by Putin to recent sanctions imposed upon Russia, badly damaging its economy. As well, it is being seen as a warning to NATO and the EU that it should not be encroaching into what Putin sees as Russian territory. Recent joint drills between US and Georgian troops in northern Georgia, along with the appointment of an ex-President of Georgia to be governor of Odessa in Ukraine, are also believed to have served as part of the catalyst leading up to this violation of international law.
Whilst we can become absorbed by the world of international politics, we cannot however ignore the impact in Georgia itself. This threat goes beyond the directly political and impacts on the everyday lives of those living in the border regions. Farmers there have lost access to their fields, and some have found themselves placed the opposite side of the border, no longer in Georgia but instead now in South Ossetia and thus Russian control. The hindrance to their freedom of movement is immense; the border is militarised and soldiers are refusing farmers access to land on the Russian side of the new border.
Unfortunately, in reality the Georgian government can do very little. As was demonstrated in 2008, military resistance would be futile; Russian forces voluntarily halted their advance 20 miles from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, and the minds of European leaders are firmly fixed upon other matters. Unless it is checked, and soon, by NATO and the West, Russian behaviour will only get more aggressive.