Russia’s upper chamber of parliament has unanimously voted to ask the Russian President to recognise independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
As the emergency session of the Federation Council began in Moscow, the presidents of the two breakaway republics have once again said they will never agree to remain within Georgia.
In his speech, the President of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, said that both unrecognised states have more right to independence than Kosovo.
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“As President of South Ossetia and on behalf of the South Ossetian parliament and its people, with all gratitude to the President of the Russian Federation I once again call for the recognition of South Ossetia as an independent state,” he said before the senators.
Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh, for his part, said neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia will live as one state with Georgia.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Meanwhile, the Parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma will most probably back the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, said Konstantin Zatulin, deputy head of the Duma Committee for International Affairs.
MPs have gathered to discuss draft appeals to the Russian President and the parliaments of UN member states in connection with Georgia’s military attack on South Ossetia.
In his address the Speaker of the Duma, Boris Gryzlov, called Georgia’s action a case of genocide and compared it to the aggression of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union.
Even if Russia recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the entire process will take a long time. There will be a need to decide what form their independence will take.
But if NATO makes a strong push to bring Georgia into the alliance, Russia will recognise both of them instantaneously, says RT’s political commentator Peter Lavelle.
Hard road to independence
South Ossetia, which borders Russia in the south Caucasus, and Abkhazia on the Black Sea had previously attempted to break away from Georgia following referendums which were overwhelmingly in favour of independence. The results were ignored by Tbilisi, which claimed the ethnic Georgians forced to flee the regions were not consulted. The recent conflict in South Ossetia has added further urgency to the demands for self-determination.
The roots of the current discord can be traced back to the divide and conquer policies of Joseph Stalin – himself half Georgian, half Ossetian. Before the 1917 revolution, the ethnic groups of the Caucasus all lived as separate subjects of the Russian empire. However, with the Bolsheviks came the redrawing of the map, with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia becoming parts of Georgia.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the then Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia advocated a nationalist “Georgia for the Georgians” policy, re-opening old wounds. Two military conflicts followed, leaving thousands dead and forcing many more to flee the conflict zones.
The ceasefire in the early 1990s brought de-facto independence to both regions with the shaky truce maintained by peacekeeping forces of mainly Russian troops.
Russia has never recognised the independence of either republic, although Georgia has repeatedly accused Moscow of trying to annex its territory.
Since becoming president in 2004, Mikhail Saakashvili has pledged to bring his country closer to the West, which has also motivated his drive to end the territorial disputes.
Ossetians and Georgians have lived side by side for centuries. The two groups share Soviet history and the Orthodox Christian religion and intermarriage is common. But the ties that once bound their cultures have been severely damaged in the trauma of the recent fighting. Kosovo’s self-declared independence in February, too, has boosted these regions’ ambitions.
Most Abkhazians and South Ossetians carry Russian passports and the only valid currency is the Russian rouble. In addition, both self-declared republics have presidents, flags, national anthems, armies and Moscow’s support.