Recognition of breakaway South Ossetia by Moscow, where the Russian military already accounts for about one sixth of the region’s declining population, has “consolidated its dependence” on Russia, a Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group (ICG), said in its report released on June 7.
Like ICG’s report on Abkhazia, released this February, the report on South Ossetia - Burden of Recognition - reviews key developments in the breakaway region after its recognition by Russia and analyses the economic, political situation in the region, as well as issues related to population and Russia’s military build up following the August war.
South Ossetia, the report says, lacks even true political, economic or military autonomy, where Moscow staffs over half the government, donates 99% of the budget and provides security.
“Since recognition, South Ossetia has increasingly come to resemble a North Caucasus republic, and Moscow’s approach to it is similar. The main difference is that in South Ossetia the president is elected rather than appointed by the Russian president,” the report reads. It also says that Russia has “inherited another volatile region in the Caucasus that it must subsidise for the sake of stability.”
Russia’s decision to recognize South Ossetia “seemed poorly thought out and impulsive,” according to the report.
It says that in private conversations, Russian diplomats and analysts question the wisdom of this decision “that not only damaged Russia’s international image but could also potentially spur secessionist sentiment in the North Caucasus.”
Citing Russian and South Ossetian analysts, the report says that without development of economy, the region will “in effect turn into a Russian garrison, since the military already accounts for about one sixth of the population.”
According to the report, western analysts estimate there are 3,000-4,500 Russian troops in South Ossetia, in addition to 900 Federal Security Service (FSB) border guards. Citing Russian sources, the report says, that Russian bases in South Ossetia have T-72 and T-90 Tanks, 150 BMP-2, 12-mm BM-21 Grad, 152mm howitzer 2C3 and S-300 air defense systems.
FSB, according to the report, is building twenty frontier posts across the administrative border line, not least to monitor Georgian military communications and movements. Setting up of these posts are expected to be completed by 2011.
“Confident of Russian protection,” the report says, authorities in the breakaway region plan to substantially downsize its military.
“To avoid turning South Ossetia into a ‘no man’s land’, all sides should address the needs and grievances of the population on the ground. Politicising issues such as freedom of movement and access for humanitarian and development organisations and observer missions comes at a high cost for the population,” the report reads.