Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:
Events in South Ossetia are unfolding according to last year’s scenario. No sooner had U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced that the United States would not provide arms to Georgia than South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity accused the United States of complicity in genocide against the Ossetian people and announced that Tskhinvali had come under fire from the Georgian village of Nikozi. Considering the fact that South Ossetian forces had already wiped Nikozi off the map, his statement sounded a bit strange.
The next day, a Georgian citizen died after stepping on a mine on the Georgian side of the border with the Akhalgorsk district. (Remember that before the Russia-Georgia war last August, the Akhalgorsk region belonged to Georgia, and after the war both Georgians and Ossetians began leaving the area.) President Kokoity announced that Georgia had intentionally blown up its own citizen as part of its policy of preventing Akhalgorsk refugees from returning home.
As part of the ongoing peace talks, Kokoity demanded that Georgia return the Trusovsky Gorge on the grounds that “many of our people” are there. Using that logic, Russia could demand the return of countless regions — including parts of the United States and Australia — since “many Russians were born there.”
This is all exactly like the Gleivits radio station incident, when in 1939 Germans dressed as Polish soldiers attacked their own radio station and then announced that the Poles were responsible.
Russia has fallen hostage to Kokoity’s whims. Under his rule, South Ossetia is rapidly becoming a ghost town. The republic’s nominal population of 70,000 is really only 15,000 today, according to the South Ossetian opposition. Kokoity plans to implement all of his peacekeeping plans with the help of the Russian military. And even if the Kremlin supports Kokoity, it is by no means proof that he has the situation under control at home. When Prime Minister Vladimir Putin demanded an account of what happened to the funds the Kremlin sent to South Ossetia to rebuild the republic, he could not give a coherent answer.
The problem is that it would be impossible to repeat last year’s scenario now. Last year, nobody in the world paid any attention to the fact that before the war had started, South Ossetian forces began shelling Georgian territory while declaring their readiness to launch a “counterstrike” against Georgian cities. Today, it is highly unlikely that Russia and South Ossetia will be able to convince the world that Georgians blew up a fellow citizen who was trying to return to the “prospering” region of Akhalgorsk, and all at the same time as that cursed West is rejecting Kokoity’s peaceful request that Georgia return the Trusovsky Gorge.
What’s more, if there will, in fact, be Round 2 of the Russia-Georgia war, nobody will believe that Kokoity had started the conflict. Everyone would conclude that it had been Putin’s decision.
Against the backdrop of an economic crisis, a gas war with Ukraine and a milk war with Belarus, a new war with Georgia would mean the same thing for Putin’s regime that the war in Afghanistan meant for the Soviet Union — the beginning of the end.