Els independentistes d'Ossètia del Sud, que aspiren a unir-se a Ossètia del Nord i formar part de la Federació Russa, sempre han estat manipulats per Moscou, que els ha utiltizat sengons la seva conveniència. Ara, Moscou, que no perdona que el president de Georgia vulgui entrar a l'Otan, ha decidit, aprofitant que l'atenció mundial està centrada en els Jocs Olímpics, jugar fort. Una operació de carambola que no només abraça Ossètia sinó també Abkhazia.
The quarrel in South Ossetia follows an escalation of tension in Abkhazia. Russia has reinforced its military presence there, which is nominally part of a UN-monitored peacekeeping effort. In the past few months European governments got more involved in the peace process and Germany drafted a plan for the economic revival of Abkhazia, indefinite autonomy and the return of Georgian refugees. So far the plan has stalled. The Abkhaz authorities are uneasy about the Russian embrace, but fear the return of Georgian refugees, once the largest ethnic group in the region. Russia does not want to surrender its key role in Abkhazia.
As Russian gets involved in the war with Georgia, the disposition of political forces within the Kremlin itself may shift. Russia’s prime minister Vladimir Putin, who is in China, indicated that Russia would retaliate against Georgia’s aggression. Mr Medvedev may not be best pleased to start his presidency with a war in Georgia: it suggests that he may have to submit to the wishes of the hard-line military and security services. But Mr Putin has a fierce dislike of Mr Saakashvili, Georgia’s maverick president, and seems determined to replace his government.
Mr Putin may also want to deal with Georgia in good time before Russia hosts 2014 winter Olympic games in Sochi, a Black-sea resort town only few miles from the Abkhaz border. A military conflict in Georgia will also derail for a long time Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO—something that Russian finds deeply unpalatable.
Russia’s broader aim may be to try to roll back the advance of pro-Western forces in its “near abroad” by highlighting the West’s inability to help Georgia. The hotting up of Georgia’s conflicts coincided with Kosovo’s declaration of independence, recognised by much of the West, and American pressure for the expansion of NATO to Georgia and Ukraine. That move has been stymied, mainly by Germany; Georgia was promised eventual NATO membership but no firm plan. Though Georgia has become a vital corridor for oil and gas exports to Europe, this has not brought the support that its leaders had expected. A lame-duck American administration has been able to do little, though Georgians hope a presidential-election victory by John McCain, an ardent supporter, may change their fortunes. The country’s strong-willed and idiosyncratic president, Mr Saakashvili, is not seen by all European leaders as quite the paragon of legality, freedom and reform that he claims to be. Georgia’s image was severely dented in November last year by a crackdown against the opposition.