"South Ossetia, isolated and with its "independence" unrecognized by the international community, is in crisis. This may explain the constant bellicose statements coming from Tskhinvali: renewed military confrontation may seem the only way to end the unacceptable status quo, established by the August 12 ceasefire.
The belligerence of the separatists is actively supported by Moscow, which has its own reasons to detest the status quo. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced, "Russia is concerned about Georgian troop concentrations near the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia" (RIA-Novosti, January 16). EU assurances that there is no "troop concentration" are not accepted. This week the Russian permanent representative in the OSCE, Anvar Azimov, announced, "The Georgians are concentrating troops and heavy weapons, building new bases and checkpoints." Azimov accused the EU observers of impotence and illegally trying to move their operations into Abkhazia and South Ossetia (RIA-Novosti, February 11).
The ceasefire last August has left the strategically important Russian base in Armenia cut off with no overland military transit connections. The number of Russian soldiers in Armenia is limited to some 4000, but during 2006 and 2007 large amounts of heavy weapons and supplies were moved in under an agreement with Tbilisi from bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki (Georgia). At present there are some 200 Russian tanks, over 300 combat armored vehicles, 250 heavy guns and lots of other military equipment in Armenia - enough to fully arm a battle force of over 20,000 (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozrenie, August 20, 2004). Forces in Armenia can be swiftly expanded by bringing in manpower by air transport from Russia. Spares to maintain the armaments may also be shipped in by air, but if a credible overland military transit link is not established within a year or two, there will be no possibility to either replace or modernize equipment. The forces will consequently degrade, undermining Russia's commitment to defend its ally Armenia and Moscow's ambition to reestablish its dominance in the South Caucasus.
While snow covers the Caucasian mountain passes until May, a renewed war with Georgia is impossible. There is hope in Moscow that the Georgian opposition may still overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili's regime or that the Obama administration will somehow remove him. However, if by May, Saakashvili remains in power, a military push by Russia to oust him may be seriously contemplated. The constant ceasefire violations could escalate to involve Russian servicemen - constituting a public casus belli. The desire by the West to "reset" relations with Moscow, putting the Georgia issue aside, may be interpreted as a tacit recognition of Russia's right to use military force."
Read the full article at Jamestown Foundation.
Also read: Russia plans joint air-defense with Armenia (in German on RIA Novosti)
It's interesting to think further ahead. What if Georgia fell under the Kremlin's supremacy again? At least Abkhazia might very well try to gain true independence. (Remember the last elections, when Moscow's candidate was defeated?) For this case, they just established an air base in Abkhazia. The aim is not only to defend the Kremlin's interest in the South Caucasus region (mainly against Georgia), but also their stronghold in Abkhazia itself. This, too, explains why the Russian military has no interest in a peaceful settlement of the present conflicts around the two separatist regions of Georgia. Without the Abkhaz-Georgian antagonism, Sukhumi might rethink it's relationship with Moscow. (Among the population of Abkhazia, Russians are not as beloved as the official press tries to show us. Just think of the Olympic games at near-by Sotchi and astronomically rising real-estate prices in the northern cities of Abkhazia including Sukhumi and you get the picture.)
South-Ossetia, although poor, is still the biggest trump card in the hands of Putin and Medvedev. Firstly, because Russian tanks are stationed now only about 45 kilometers from Georgia's capital. Secondly, because South-Ossetia looks south to Georgia's weakest strategic point, that is the rather narrow East-West-connection (the "highway" running from Tbilisi to Batumi). Thirdly, continuing violations of the ceasefire-agreement create pressure on Saakashvili's government and an athmosphere of instability and unsureness, deterring investors and thwarting Georgia's ambitions on NATO-membership. And eventually, there is another option: By "proving" that an independent South-Ossetia could not defend itself against "aggressive" Georgia, it can graciously be admitted into the Russian Federation in a year or two.
The reference to Armenia and Russian troops stationed in Armenia might also give a clou to the (indirect) support of the Javakheti-movement of Armenians in Georgia, pressing for autonomy. Recent history has shown what "autonomy" for Georgia really means - the destruction of a multi-ethnic state, while on the other hand side the war against "bandits" and separatism in Chechnyia and elsewhere in the North Caucasus continues, accepted by the West as a "fight against terrorism" after 9/11.
What next will be accepted by the West, falsely assuming "common interests" with Putin and his camarilla?