With the recent codification of the joint forces agreement binding Georgian breakaway region Abkhazia and Russia, observers of the South Caucasus have anxiously anticipated a similar change in Moscow’s relations with South Ossetia. You can find background on the issues involving Russian involvement in Georgia in my previous articles on Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Georgia:

On August 10th, my first article on South Ossetia here at SOFREP outlined the region’s recent history, mostly since the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008, and explained why certain events were conspiring to ensure that South Ossetia’s geostrategic importance for both the West and Russia would grow in exponential terms in the subsequent months. South Ossetia is one of two important breakaway regions in Georgia with significant separatist movements. Abkhazia, the breakaway region to South Ossetia’s west with a coastline on the Black Sea, has recently entered a joint forces agreement with its patron, Russia. That agreement effectively integrates both the foreign policy and the military command structure with Moscow. This alignment of policy and command represents a foreboding and potentially destabilizing change in relations between Russia and the European Union as relates to the EU’s prospective member states. In South Ossetia, negotiations for integration of the breakaway Georgian region into the Russian Federation, whether outright annexation or an alignment of policy with increased Russian support and investment, has echoed through the halls of power structures from the European Union to Washington DC. The Messenger Online, a noted Georgian policy site, notes:

Break-away South Ossetia is going to sign the Treaty on Alliance and Strategic Partnership with Russia, the only state to recognize the region’s independence.

De-facto president of the region Leonid Talibov said the parties are working actively on the draft of the treaty. Moreover, Talibov believes the region should not stop with signing the treaty, but it should join the Russian Federation directly. (Ana Robakidze, The Messenger Online, December 12)

South Ossetia, a Georgian separatist region to the east of Abkhazia and north of the country’s capital Tbilisi, represents significantly valuable geopolitical terrain. Consequently, that value entices regional powers, most importantly Russia, to remain engaged in order to ensure at least a modicum of influence in both the domestic and foreign policies of the Georgian government. South Ossetia officially remains a part of Georgia and is recognized as an independent state by only five countries, Russia among them. The recent agreement signed by both Russia and Abkhazia is foreboding prologue for what is likely to happen soon in South Ossetia.

Abkhazia’s agreement outlined several key areas in which the breakaway region would be brought under significantly increased influence from Russia. Among the more important aspects of the agreement is that it effectively binds Abkhazia to Russia financially. Moscow has guaranteed to provide the Abkhazian government 5 billion rubles in the form of a grant (roughly equal to $111.4 million):

Under the terms of Monday’s accord, Putin said Russia would grant 5 billion rubles ($111.4 million) to Abkhazia, whose population of 240,000 comprises a mix of ethnic groups.

The agreement, posted on the Kremlin website, envisages a “joint defense and security space” and stipulates Russian “protection of the state border of the Republic of Abkhazia with Georgia.”