The separatist forces in question reside in the region of South Ossetia, a long-contested area on Georgia’s northern border with Russia, and one of the sites where fighting occurred in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.
In a statement, Georgian government officials said: “Any agreement between the Russian Federation and de-facto leadership (of South Ossetia) is illegitimate,” and “Such steps are not aimed at protecting peace and are impeding peaceful process, which is necessary for the conflict resolution.”
The Russian agreement brings the armed separatists inside South Ossetia under the control and auspices of the greater Russian army. Soldiers in these groups can also opt to become full-fledged members of the Russian military by choosing to serve at the Russian military base in the region.
South Ossetia has a heavy ethnic Russian population, and a history of seeking to dislodge itself from the nation of Georgia. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, a war broke out between the newly independent Georgia and Russian-backed armed groups in South Ossetia. Hostilities ceased only after a mixed force of Georgian and Russian peacekeepers occupied the region.
The 2008 Russo-Georgian war was launched under the pretense of safeguarding peace and protecting the population within the regions of South Ossetia and neighboring Abkhazia from Georgian aggression. After a few weeks of fighting, a peace was brokered by France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. While brief and with relatively little loss of life, the war severely damaged relations between Russia and Georgia, and the long simmering conflict over South Ossetia was not fully resolved.
Many in the West have criticized Putin’s decision to absorb these military units in South Ossetia, describing it as the first steps towards annexation. In many ways, the situation shows parallels between Russian actions in the Crimean Peninsula and eastern Ukraine, by acting on behalf of populations it says are being attacked, pretext is established for broader Russian intervention and control.
Given the lack of any overwhelming international response to the 2008 war, it appears the Russians will again be free to operate in what is technically sovereign Georgian territory.
Featured image shows Russian tanks during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War courtesy of Reuters.
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