• Territory: South Ossetia
• Status: Break-away region of Georgia. Separated from Georgia
in a 1991-92 war.
• Status: Region within Georgia
• Population: Approximately 70,000
• Capital: Tskhinvali
• Major languages: Ossetian, Georgian, Russian
• Major religion: Christianity
• Currency: Russian rouble, Georgian lari
Rayons (yellow, numbered) and the capital city (red) of the
Republic of South Ossetia. The borders
according to the Soviet ones. Rayons: 1. Dzau rayon. 2. Znaur
rayon. 3. Tskhinval rayon. 4.
Leningor rayon. The most part of the Leningor rayon is
controlled by the central Georgian
authorities; most of the other territories are controlled by
separatist government in Tskhinval.
President: Eduard Kokoiti
One-time wrestling champion Eduard Kokoiti, or Kokoyev, won
unrecognized presidential elections
in South Ossetia in December 2001 and again in November 2006.
A businessman and former communist, he holds Russian
South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoiti
He has angered Tbilisi by stating his aim to be the
unification of North and South Ossetia within the
Russian Federation. He describes Russia as the main guarantor
of stability in the Caucasus and
has strong ties with the like-minded Abkhaz leadership.
He has warned Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili against
aggressive Georgian nationalism
and insists that the people of South Ossetia do not regard
themselves as part of Georgia.
Mr. Kokoiti was born in 1964.
Timeline: South Ossetia
A Chronology of key events and facts:
South Ossetia is a territory of around 4,000sq km (1,544sq mls),
situated about 100km north of the
Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and on the southern slopes of the
The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s spurred a
separatist movement in South
Ossetia, which had always felt more affinity with Russia than
It broke away from Georgian rule in a war in 1991-92, in which
several thousand people died, and
continues to maintain close ties with the neighboring Russian
region of North Ossetia, on the north
side of the Caucasus.
The majorities of the roughly 70,000 people are ethnically
distinct from Georgians, and speak their
own language, related to Farsi.
They say they were forcibly absorbed into Georgia under Soviet
rule and now want to exercise their
right to self-determination. The separatist leader is Eduard
In November 2006, villages inside South Ossetia still under
Georgian control elected a rival leader,
former separatist Dmitry Sanakoyev. He is endorsed by Tbilisi,
but his authority only extends to a
small part of the region.
Around two-thirds of South Ossetia's annual budget revenues of
around $30 million (ˆ19.9 million)
come directly from Moscow. Almost all the population hold
Russian passports. They use the
Russian rouble as their currency.
A peacekeeping force with 500 members each from Russia,
Georgia and North Ossetia monitors a
supposed truce. Georgia accuses the Russian peacekeepers of
siding with the separatists, which
Sporadic clashes between separatist and Georgian forces have
killed dozens of people in the last
ARMED FORCES COMPARED
Total personnel: 26,900
Main battle tanks (T-72): 82
Armored personnel carriers: 139
Combat aircraft (Su-25): Seven
Heavy artillery pieces (including Grad rocket launchers): 95
Total personnel: 641,000
Main battle tanks (various): 6,717
Armored personnel carriers: 6,388
Combat aircraft (various): 1,206
Heavy artillery pieces (various): 7,550
Source: Jane's Sentinel Country Risk Assessments
Why does South Ossetia want to break away from Georgia? What
is its current political status?
South Ossetia has historically enjoyed degrees of autonomy
even within Imperial and Soviet
Russia, and has attempted to gain independence a number of
times in the past. It is a de facto
independent republic within Georgia. While not officially
recognized as an independent state by any
other country or international body, South Ossetia has
repeatedly stated it would settle for nothing
less than outright independence from Georgia.
Many South Ossetians feel they are unnaturally separated from
the Ossetians across the border in
the Russian republic of North Ossetia and would like to see
independence as a way to unite with
What are Russia’s ties to the separatists?
Russia has a contingent of peacekeepers in the disputed areas
of Georgia. Georgia claims that the
peacekeepers actually favor the separatist governments. As
Georgia has moved closer to the West,
seeking membership in NATO, Russia has countered with a number
of moves which have tightened
the ties between Russia and South Ossetia/Abkhazia.
Where does the international community stand on the issue?
No country or organization (OSCE, U.N., NATO, and SCO) has
recognized the sovereignty of South
Ossetia. But we are seeing Russia and Georgia try to put
forward two different narratives to the
international community. Georgia, which is angling for
eventual NATO membership, would like to
paint this as internal Georgian affair that Russia is
interfering in. Russia, on the other hand, claims it
is protecting its own legally-stationed peacekeepers and its
What are the risks of a wider regional conflict?
The risks here are great. With casualties to Russia’s
peacekeeping force and attacks on Georgian
territory beyond the conflict zone, we are already seeing the
potential for this to spin into a larger,
Russian-Georgian conflict. In addition, many of Russia’s
unstable Caucasus regions — Chechnya,
Ingushetia, Dagestan — are nearby and could see a spillover of
violence into their regional conflicts.
The volatile Caucasus region is strategically important as a
transitroute for oil from the east.
Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is, without question,
the region's most volatile leader. His
decision to shell the South Ossetian city of Tshkinvali while
most world leaders were in Beijing for
the opening of the Olympic Games has threatened to cause the
biggest crisis in Europe for almost
two decades. His action appears to have been a calculated
gamble at a time when world attention is
Iran, watching conflict in the Caucasus unfold virtually on
its doorstep. Iran borders on two of
Georgia's neighbors in the Caucasus – Armenia and Azerbaijan
-- and historically maintains a close
geopolitical interest in the volatile region.
Its capital Tehran lies 880 kilometers (550 miles), as the
from Georgia's capital Tbilisi -- about the same distance as
From the viewpoint of the United States, Georgia is a vital
and a strategic partner in promoting and
protecting the national interests of our nation. Georgia’s
proximity to the southern Russian plank,
Iran and the gas rich oilfields of Central Asia enables the
United States to effectively control and
monitor developments and events in the very area and act if
needed. Threats emanating from
nuclear Iran and Central Asia which includes and not limited
to Islamic fundamentalism can spread
beyond the boundaries of Asia Minor. Therefore it is in our
national interest to see and safeguard
Georgian territorial integrity. Georgia offers the key to
stability and the territorial post for our
policymakers to be able to exercise our national interests in
the post cold –war world.
This analysis/assessment is directly from the knowledge and
skills of Kerop B. Gourdikian, CIP of