On March 18, 2015, tensions between Russia and the South Caucasian country of Georgia were ratcheted upward with the signing of an integration treaty between the Georgian breakaway territory of South Ossetia and Russia. As examined in detail through numerous previous articles here at SOFREP and at Foreign Intrigue, South Ossetia represents strategic terrain in Russia’s ongoing effort to secure access to and influence the geo-strategically valuable South Caucasus. In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin made official the strategic partnership treaty that officials in Russia and the Georgian breakaway territory of Abkhazia had negotiated in November 2014.

In the hours following the signing of the most recent agreement between South Ossetia and Russia, Georgia’s government once again protested. Georgia maintains that Russia’s treaties constitute interference in an internal state matter and a blatant violation of the country’s sovereignty. Georgian President Giorgia Margvelashvili spoke forthrightly about the continued usurping of Georgia’s sovereignty. The United States, the European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) issued statements strongly condemning the treaty and warning of international consequences for continued Russian aggression in the South Caucasus country:

Under the agreement signed Wednesday in the Kremlin, South Ossetia’s military and economy are to be incorporated into Russia’s. The treaty also promises to make it easier for South Ossetians to get Russian citizenship and to raise salaries for civil servants and state pensions.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the agreement.

“The regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are integral parts of Georgia and we continue to support Georgia’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” she said in a statement. (The Washington Post, March 18, 2015)

Throughout the past 12 months, Moscow has pursued a deliberate, methodical, and unrelenting campaign of influence over both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In doing so, Russian officials have crafted a strategy to both disturb the territorial integrity of Georgia and ensure Russian domination of important geographical terrain in the South Caucasus.

In August 2008, Russia and Georgia fought a brief but intense war over South Ossetia and fellow Georgian breakaway, Abkhazia. I have explored the ongoing effort at what amounts to ostensible and effective annexation of the two breakaways by Russia in previous articles. You can find those both here at SOFREP and at Foreign Intrigue.

Map courtesy of the United Nations.
Map courtesy of the United Nations.

The codification of the latest agreement between Russia and the Georgian territory represents yet another watershed moment in the recent history of the Eurasian security landscape. While Russia continues to foment rebellion in Eastern Ukraine through unacknowledged (but well-documented) military and intelligence support, Moscow has taken a slightly different approach to its effort in exerting influence in the South Caucasus.

While dangling membership in the nascent and newly-launched Eurasian Economic Union to Armenia, Russia chose to sign two integration treaties with breakaway territories in Georgia. This attempt to exacerbate tensions between the Georgian national government and its separatist regions has been significant in a time of growing turmoil in Tbilisi. While former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has taken up the cause of Ukrainian autonomy from the influence of Moscow, current President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Garibashvili have struggled to maintain stability in Tbilisi.

The year-long devaluation of the Russian national currency has contributed greatly to an erosion of the Kremlin’s international prestige, Russia’s diplomatic and military power, and the financial base of support that constitutes the governing legitimacy of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some analysts contend that Putin’s constrained decision-making power was largely caused by his strategic missteps in Syria and Ukraine. Putin chose the Syrian conflict, specifically the weeks following the chemical-weapons attack in August 2013, to re-assert Russian leadership internationally.

Given his decision to invest Russian military power in Eastern Ukraine, he has now been cornered into being subject to the hardliners in his military advisor class. Many of the oligarchs that comprised his economic support base have left or have been marginalized by the more hardline security officials now dominating policy discussions in the Kremlin. In short, Putin’s diplomatic options have dwindled as his military has been bogged down in Donbas. His decisions are now often reactionary in nature, subject to the pressure of international sanctions.

As Russia continues to facilitate the so-called ‘frozen conflicts’ in Eastern Ukraine (Donbas), Moldova (Transnistria), and Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), treaties further integrating the political, economic, and governing structures of Georgia’s breakaways will continue to burgeon Moscow’s strategic depth in its near abroad. This will leave both Russia and the West with fewer diplomatic opportunities by which to resolve the ongoing conflict.

(Featured image courtesy of thesentinel.ca)