Referendum in South Ossetia as a hint at the future of Donbass
The epicenter of the geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West today, as we know, is Donbass. But the signal that this epicenter is waiting, perhaps in the very near future, came not from the Donbass itself, but from a completely different border of Russia’s borders. The President of South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov stated that after April 10, this formerly part of Georgia will hold a referendum on its membership in Russia.
The leaders of South Ossetia have repeatedly spoken about the existence of such plans. But before, the reaction of official Moscow could be described by the words “not yet necessary.” However, this time Tskhinvali (the so-called capital of the republic) was clearly given the green light. Senator Andrei Klimov, who is close to the Kremlin’s highest spheres, spoke about Bibilov’s plans with emphasized benevolence: “There are no legal obstacles to fulfilling the long-held dream of South Ossetians to join Russia.”
Will the expansion of Russia at the expense of a small republic with a population of 53,000 people change little in the big geopolitical situation? From which side to look. And you have to look from this side. The referendum in South Ossetia will set a second precedent in Crimea after a similar expression of will. And we will not have to wait long for this precedent to be repeated.
At the famous meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation on February 21, the already famous dialogue between Vladimir Putin and the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service Sergei Naryshkin took place. Putin: “Say yes or no?” Naryshkin: “That’s what I say: I support the proposal to include the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the Russian Federation.” Putin: “We are not talking about it, we are not discussing it. We are talking about recognizing their independence or not. ” Naryshkin: “Yes, I support the proposal to recognize independence.”
I have good news for Sergei Naryshkin. Now we (in the sense of the top Kremlin leadership) are “talking about it, we are discussing it.” Both the “independence” of South Ossetia and the “independence” of the DNR and LNR (in the case of Abkhazia, things are somewhat different) have always been largely political fiction, a legal pad to prevent a head-on collision between Russia and the West and the imposition of new sanctions against Moscow. . Now this gasket has ceased to perform any useful function. A head-on confrontation with the West is already taking place, and all possible and impossible sanctions have either been imposed or will be imposed.
Against this background, further games of “independence” become indistinguishable from attempts to hang a heavy bolt on the door of the stable, from which a horse left a hundred years ago.
Of course, it is somewhat surprising that it was decided to start getting rid of “political fiction” in South Ossetia. Tbilisi will not be very pleased with such a step by Moscow, to put it mildly. Against the background of the unfinished special operation in Ukraine, why aggravate relations with Georgia, a country that refused to join the anti-Russian sanctions? Then that in this way the Kremlin, apparently, sends a signal: we do not care! If you want, be indignant, if you want, impose sanctions. It won’t make sense to you anyway, but the harm may well be.
I will take another step forward in assumptions. The Kremlin’s political signal I described above was “read through Putin’s lips” even before he was sent. Let us recall, for example, the expressions in which Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili motivated Tbilisi’s refusal to participate in anti-Russian sanctions. Referring to the interests of winemakers and the unwillingness to lose income from tourism, the Georgian head of government then directly accused the opposition of wanting to “repeat the tragedy we could not avoid during the August 2008 war.” In short, Georgia is now ruled by very “understanding” people.
Who else from foreign countries should seriously think about whether it is time to get a similar “understanding”? The obvious contender is Moldova with its ongoing Transnistrian conflict since 1992. Once Putin has set about “thawing” frozen conflicts, how can he forget about a region with more than 200,000 Russian citizens?
Yes, today Transnistria has no direct border with Russia – only with Vinnytsia and Odessa regions of Ukraine. But this is today, and who can say what will happen next? Shortly after the start of the special operation in Ukraine, Putin made it very clear that if official Kyiv did not accept the terms of the compromise offered to it, those conditions could be significantly tightened in the future.
Am I running too far? Definitely run. The main negotiator with Ukraine from Moscow is not Vladimir Medinsky at all, but the Russian army in Donbass. The further course of events depends on the “diplomatic talents” of this negotiator. But so far we are not talking about what will happen tomorrow, but about the plans of official Moscow for this tomorrow. Let’s see if there is a gap between these two concepts.