- Angel Bermudez
- BBC News World
“I believe that unification with Russia is our strategic goal, our path, the aspirations of the people. We will take appropriate legal measures in the near future. The Republic of South Ossetia will be part of its historical homeland – Russia.”
Those were the words that on March 31, the President of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, announced his intention to hold a referendum on the accession of that region to Russia.
The news has sounded alarm bells because most of the international community South Ossetia is a separate region from Georgia and is not a sovereign state.
In addition, the announcement came in the context of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, a country that in recent years has witnessed Moscow’s annexation of Crimea since 2014, while pro-Russian separatist groups have attempted to wrest it from two other regions of its territory. .: Donetsk and Luhansk.
Although South Ossetia has been operating de facto since 1992 as an independent entity and apart from the government of Tbilisi, Only a handful of UN member states recognize it as an independent republic: Basically Moscow and some of its allies like Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria and Nauru, which is a small country in the Pacific Ocean.
This rebellious region of Georgia is what international relations experts describe as a “ghost country,” the type of entity that has received the most attention, particularly because of the events of the past fifteen years in the former Soviet world.
Independent, but without recognition
“We are talking about entities that have expressed their desire to be independent states and can exercise some control over their territory. They have some typical characteristics of states, but they are not recognized by the international community or, at least, are not recognized by the international community. An important way,” explains political scientist Dalia Sheindlin, analyst specializing in foreign policy and international relations, for BBC Mundo.
Thus, these “ghost states” can wage wars, hold elections, and build schools, but They lack the kind of international recognition that would allow them to become full members of the United Nations.
Also known as “quasi-states” or de facto states, there are entities of this type in different regions of the world. Some examples are Northern Cyprus, Taiwan, Kosovo, Somaliland or Nagorno-Karabakh.
Sheindlin explains that most of these “ghost states” arose in places where there were ethno-nationalist conflicts (Taiwan is an exception), which would partly explain why there were so many of these entities in the ex-communist bloc’s ex-communist bloc. cold War.
“During the dissolution of the Soviet Union there were a number of ethno-national conflicts, because the Soviet Union was a large and sprawling empire, with many different ethno-national groups. And when it split, there was a form for which they found these groups Revolting against the communist leadership was embracing their national identitiesSheindlin says.
As the expert points out, The USSR had a policy of trying to change the demographic composition of many places by sending ethnic Russians to live there.. “All these attempts to engineer a national identity over the years led to a rebellion against these dynamics, once the Soviet Union fell,” he says.
In an article published in New York timesGeorgetown professors Daniel Byman and Charles King note that most “ghost states” survive thanks to outside support.
Thus, for example, Nagorno-Karabakh receives support from Armenia, while Northern Cyprus is supported by Turkey.
Sheindlin points out Hto External support from the “main state” allows these “ghost states” to remain afloat for many years in this kind of limbo. the international system in which they found themselves.
“It is true that many of these entities cannot have normal foreign relations because they are not recognized. They are often punished for being considered separatists, which is something the international system is trying to discourage in order to maintain stability. They can maintain normal trade relations, so they end up with It’s diplomatic and economic isolation,” says the expert.
In this context, having the support of a powerful outside country can make all the difference.
Russia is the ‘stereotype’ of many of these ‘phantom states’ That led in the past three decades to major conflicts in the former Soviet space.
For separatist groups in Transnistria (Moldova), Abkhazia, South Ossetia (Georgia) and more recently in Donetsk and Luhansk (Ukraine), Moscow’s support has been essential.
Russia plays this role [de estado patrón]Especially from a military point of view, in those areas,” Sheindlin says.
In all of these entities there is a presence of Russian forces stationed there, sometimes for decades.
Russian soldiers arrived in Transnistria as “peacekeepers” in the early 1990s, after a brief war between the Russian-speaking independence militia there and the Moldovan army. There are also responsible for guarding a depot containing the largest arsenal of Soviet weapons and ammunition from the Cold War: about 20,000 tons.
Russian forces also settled in Abkhazia and South Ossetia InitialConsidered “peacekeepers”After the wars between the independence groups in those regions and the Georgian army in the early 1990s.
When these two conflicts erupted in Georgia in 2008, Moscow entered into an armed clash with the forces of Tbilisi, which in a short time rocked them, after which the Kremlin decided to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, a gesture that was condemned. A large part of the international community because it harms the territorial integrity of Georgia.
As for Donetsk and Luhansk, Moscow provided open and covert support to the rebel groups that declared independence from Ukraine in 2014, after the popular revolution that ended the government of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. In the same year, Moscow annexed the Ukrainian Crimea.
On February 21, shortly before the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk and authorized sending troops to those territories on the basis of performing “peacekeeping” tasks.
Moscow is also economically vital to these regions. fact, The Russian ruble is the main currency in circulation in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Donetsk and Luhansk.
“The separatists in those places are very dependent on Russia. Without Russia, I don’t think they have any kind of financial or military capabilities,” Sheindlin said.
In the diplomatic sphere, it is also notable that external recognition that some of these territories have been acquired by “sovereign states” – other than what they themselves exchange with each other – comes mainly from states allied with Russia such as Syria or Venezuela.
But what did Moscow get out of all this?
Divide and conquer
Sheindlin claims that these conflicts in the regions of the former Soviet Union were largely unresolved due to actions by Russia itself that made their resolution impossible.
“Russia intervenes in these conflicts with its direct armed presence in some of these territories or with the support of the separatists.
“This is part of Moscow’s policy since 1989 of maintaining a foothold, through fairly active military forces, In order to keep those countries weak [Moldavia, Georgia y Ucrania] What do you consider to be part of your area of influence?It seeks to co-opt a part of its population in order to continue to expand its influence in a tangible way by controlling de facto areas.”
“I think Putin was well aware that the more internal conflicts in society, the weaker he became on the international scene,” he adds.
Interestingly, one of the elements that helped justify Moscow’s interventions in neighboring countries was the presence of pockets of the Russian-speaking population in those countries, something which according to British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore was the result of a deliberate policy implemented by Joseph Stalin.
“The [Stalin] He embraced the imperial mission of the Russian people. Designed by the Soviet Union Using his knowledge of ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus To create republics within republics – including Ossetia and Abkhazia – like the Russian Trojans and these horses survived the great Stalin project ”, wrote the historian in an article published in New York times.
These enclaves were the basis for the emergence of these “phantom states” that have hitherto presented themselves to the international community as a result of local independence movements.
This is an idea that has been left in question for Sheindlin, at least with regard to South Ossetia after the initiative of the government of that region to call for a referendum to join Russia.
The expert says, “This proves that there has never been an organic identity movement for South Ossetia. If there was, they would want to have their own independent state.”
“I think they are just puppets of Putin‘, he adds.
For its part, the Kremlin maintains a seemingly distant attitude towards this initiative.
When asked about the matter, he said, “I can’t take any position. There have been no legal or other actions on our behalf in this regard. However, here we are talking about the will of the people of South Ossetia and we treat it with respect.” Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
In any case, if the referendum scheduled for May or June leads to the annexation of those territories to Russia, South Ossetia will cease to be a “ghost state” and will immediately become a disputed region between Moscow and Tbilisi.
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