South Ossetia

Republic of South Ossetia

  • Республикӕ Хуссар Ирыстон (Ossetic)
    Respublikæ Khussar Iryston

  • ცხინვალის რეგიონი (Georgian)
    Tskhinvalis regioni

  • Республика Южная Осетия (Russian)
    Respublika Yuzhnaya Osetiya
Flag Emblem
Anthem: National Anthem of South Ossetia
South Ossetia (green), Georgia, and Abkhazia (light grey).
South Ossetia (green), Georgia, and Abkhazia (light grey).
Map of South Ossetia.
Map of South Ossetia.
42°14′N 43°58′E / 42.233°N 43.967°E / 42.233; 43.967
Official languages
Recognised regional languages Georgian
Government Semi-presidential republic
   President Leonid Tibilov
   Prime Minister Domenty Kulumbegov
Legislature Parliament
Independence from the Soviet Union
   Declared 28 November 1991[1] 
   Recognized 26 August 2008 (limited) 
   Total 3,900 km2
1,506 sq mi
   Water (%) negligible
   2013 estimate 51,547[2]
   2015 census 53,532[3]
   Density 13/km2
33.7/sq mi
Currency Russian ruble (RUB)
Time zone MSK (UTC+3)
Drives on the right
a. Ossetian and Russian languages are official languages[4]

South Ossetia (/ɒˈsɛtiə/[5]), also known as the Tskhinvali Region,[nb 1] is a partially recognised state in the South Caucasus, located in the territory of the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast within the former Georgian SSR.[6] Its population of 53,000 lives in an area of 3,900 km2, south of the Russian Caucasus, with 30,000 living in its capital city of Tskhinvali.

South Ossetia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Georgian government responded by abolishing South Ossetia's autonomy and trying to re-establish its control over the region by force.[7] The crisis escalation led to the 1991–92 South Ossetia War.[8] Georgian fighting against those controlling South Ossetia occurred on two other occasions, in 2004 and 2008.[9] The latter conflict led to the Russia–Georgia war, during which Ossetian and Russian forces gained full de facto control of the territory of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast.

In the wake of the 2008 South Ossetia War, Russia, followed by Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru recognised South Ossetia's independence.[10][11][12][13][14] Georgia does not recognise the existence of South Ossetia as a political entity, including most of the area in its Shida Kartli region, under the administration of the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia. Georgia and a significant part of the international community consider South Ossetia to be occupied by the Russian military. South Ossetia relies heavily on military, political and financial aid from Russia.[15][16][17] Russia does not allow European Union Monitoring Mission monitors to enter South Ossetia.[18]

South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Abkhazia are post-Soviet "frozen conflict" zones.[19][20]


Alania X-XII century
Medieval Georgia and Alania in the 9th–11th centuries.
Map of Georgia and Ossetia in the 12th-13th centuries.
Historical Russian map of the Caucasus region at the beginning of the 19th century
Fragment of the historical map by J. H. Colton. The map depicts Caucasus region in 1856. Modern South Ossetia is located in Georgia and Imeria. Modern North Ossetia approximately corresponds to "Ossia".
Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921) in 1921.
Creation of the South Ossetian AO in 1922.

Medieval and early modern period

The Ossetians are believed to originate from the Alans, a Sarmatian Iranian tribe.[21] In the 17th century, Ossetians started migration from the North Caucasus to Georgia.[22] Ossetian peasants, who were migrating to the mountainous areas of the South Caucasus, often settled in the lands of Georgian feudal lords.[23] The Georgian King of the Kingdom of Kartli permitted Ossetians to immigrate.[24] According to Russian ambassador to Georgia Mikhail Tatishchev, at the beginning of the 17th century there was already a small group of Ossetians living near the headwaters of the Greater Liakhvi River.[24][25] In the 1770s there were more Ossetians living in Kartli than ever before. This period has been documented in the travel diaries of Johann Anton Güldenstädt who visited Georgia in 1772. The Baltic German explorer called modern North Ossetia simply Ossetia, while he wrote that Kartli (the areas of modern-day South Ossetia) was populated by Georgians and the mountainous areas were populated by both Georgians and Ossetians.[26] Güldenstädt also wrote that the northernmost border of Kartli is the Major Caucasus Ridge.[27][28][29] By the end of 18th century, the ultimate sites of Ossetian settlement on the territory of modern South Ossetia were in Kudaro (Jejora river estuary), Greater Liakhvi gorge, the gorge of Little Liakhvi, Ksani River gorge, Guda (Tetri Aragvi estuary) and Truso (Terek estuary).[30]

The Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, part of which was the major territory of modern South Ossetia, was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1801. According to Georgian historian Roland Topchishvili, Ossetian migration to Georgian areas continued in the 19th and 20th centuries, when Georgia was part of the Russian Empire and Ossetian settlements in Trialeti, Borjomi, Bakuriani and Kakheti emerged as well.[30]

South Ossetia as a part of the Soviet Union

Following the Russian revolution,[31] the area of modern South Ossetia became part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia.[32] In 1918, conflict began between the landless Ossetian peasants living in Shida Kartli (Interior Georgia), who were influenced by Bolshevism and demanded ownership of the lands they worked, and the Menshevik government backed ethnic Georgian aristocrats, who were legal owners. Although the Ossetians were initially discontented with the economic policies of the central government, the tension soon transformed into ethnic conflict.[32] The first Ossetian rebellion began in February 1918, when three Georgian princes were killed and their land was seized by the Ossetians. The central government of Tiflis retaliated by sending the National Guard to the area. However, the Georgian unit retreated after they had engaged the Ossetians.[33] Ossetian rebels then proceeded to occupy the town of Tskhinvali and began attacking ethnic Georgian civilian population. During uprisings in 1919 and 1920, the Ossetians were covertly supported by Soviet Russia, but even so, were defeated.[32] Between 3,000 and 7,000 Ossetians were killed during the crushing of the 1920 uprising,[32] according to Ossetian sources ensuing hunger and epidemics were the causes of death of more than 13,000 people.[7]

The Soviet Georgian government, established after the Red Army invasion of Georgia in 1921, created an autonomous administrative unit for Transcaucasian Ossetians in April 1922 under pressure from Kavburo (the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party), called the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast (AO).[34] Some believe that the Bolsheviks granted this autonomy to the Ossetians in exchange for their help in fighting the Democratic Republic of Georgia and favoring local separatists, since this area had never been a principality before.[35] The drawing of administrative boundaries of the South Ossetian AO was quite a complicated process. Many Georgian villages were included within the South Ossetian AO despite numerous protests by the Georgian population. While the city of Tskhinvali did not have a majority Ossetian population, it was made the capital of the South Ossetian AO.[34][36] In addition to parts of Gori Uyezd and Dusheti Uyezd of Tiflis Governorate, parts of Racha Uyezd of Kutaisi Governorate (western Georgia) were also included within the South Ossetian AO. According to Georgian historians all these territories historically had been indigenous Georgian lands.[37]

Although the Ossetians had their own language (Ossetian), Russian and Georgian were administrative/state languages.[38] Under the rule of Georgia's government during Soviet times, it enjoyed minority cultural autonomy, including speaking the Ossetian language and teaching it in schools.[38] In 1989, two-thirds of Ossetians in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic lived outside the South Ossetian AO.[39]

Historical Ossetia in the North Caucasus did not have its own political entity before 1924, when the North Ossetian Autonomous Oblast was created.[37]

Georgian-Ossetian conflict


Tensions in the region began to rise amid rising nationalism among both Georgians and Ossetians in 1989. Before this, the two communities of the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast of the Georgian SSR had been living in peace with each other except for the 1918-1920 events. Both ethnicities have had a high level of interaction and high rates of intermarriage. Dispute surrounding the presence of the Ossetian people in the South Caucasus has been one of the causes of conflict. Although the Georgian historiography believes that Ossetian mass migration to the South Caucasus (Georgia) began in the 17th century, Ossetians claim to be residing in the area since ancient times and that present-day South Ossetia is their historical homeland.[7] No evidence exists to back up the Ossetian claims of being indigenous to South Ossetia.[40] Some Ossetian historians accept that the migration of Ossetian ancestors to modern South Ossetia began after the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, while one South Ossetian de facto foreign minister in the 1990s admitted that the Ossetians first appeared in the area only in the early 17th century.[41] Since it was created after the Russian invasion of 1921, South Ossetia was regarded as artificial creation by Georgians during the Soviet era.[7]

The South Ossetian Popular Front (Ademon Nykhas) was created in 1988. On 10 November 1989, the South Ossetian regional council asked the Georgian Supreme Council to upgrade the region to the status of an "autonomous republic".[7] The decision to transform the South Ossetian AO into the South Ossetian ASSR by the South Ossetian authorities escalated the conflict. On 11 November, this decision was revoked by the Georgian parliament.[42] The Georgian authorities removed the First Party Secretary of the oblast from his position.[43][44]

The Georgian Supreme Council adopted a law barring regional parties in summer 1990. Since this was interpreted by South Ossetians as a move against Ademon Nykhas, they declared full sovereignty as part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on 20 September 1990. Ossetians boycotted subsequent Georgian parliamentary elections and held their own contest in December.[7]

In October 1990, the parliamentary elections in Georgia was won by Zviad Gamsakhurdia's "Round Table" block.[7] On 11 December 1990, Zviad Gamsakhurdia's government declared the Ossetian election illegitimate and abolished South Ossetia's autonomous status altogether.[7] Gamsakhurdia rationalized the abolition of Ossetian autonomy by saying, "They [Ossetians] have no right to a state here in Georgia. They are a national minority. Their homeland is North Ossetia.... Here they are newcomers."[41]

When the Georgian parliament declared a state of emergency in the territory of South Ossetian AO on 12 December 1990, troops from both Georgian and Russian interior ministries were sent to the region. After Georgian National Guard was formed in early 1991, Georgian troops entered Tskhinvali on 5 January 1991.[45] The 1991–92 South Ossetia War was characterised by general disregard for international humanitarian law by uncontrollable militias, with both sides reporting atrocities.[45] Although initially the Soviet military reportedly facilitated a ceasefire as ordered by Mikhail Gorbachev in January 1991, later they were participating in the conflict on the Ossetian side. In March and April 1991, Soviet interior troops were reported actively disarming militias on both sides, and deterring the inter-ethnic violence. Zviad Gamsakhurdia asserted that the Soviet leadership was encouraging South Ossetian separatism in order to force Georgia not to leave the Soviet Union. Despite the use of such tactics by Gorbachev, Georgia still declared its independence in April 1991.[41]

As a result of the war, about 100,000 ethnic Ossetians fled the territory and Georgia proper, most across the border into North Ossetia. A further 23,000 ethnic Georgians fled South Ossetia to other parts of Georgia.[46] Many South Ossetians were resettled in uninhabited areas of North Ossetia from which the Ingush had been expelled by Stalin in 1944, leading to conflicts between Ossetians and Ingush over the right of residence in former Ingush territory.

On 29 April 1991, the western part of South Ossetia was affected by an earthquake, which killed 200 and left 300 families homeless.

In late 1991, dissent was mounting against Gamsakhurdia in Georgia due to his intolerance of critics and attempts to concentrate political power. On 22 December 1991, after a coup d'état, Gamsakhurdia and his supporters were besieged by the opposition, which was backed by the national guard, in several government buildings in Tbilisi. The ensuing heavy fighting resulted in over 200 casualties, and left the center of the Georgian capital in ruins. On 6 January, Gamsakhurdia and several of his supporters fled the city for exile. Afterwards, the Georgian military council, an interim government, was formed by a triumvirate of Jaba Ioseliani, Tengiz Kitovani and Tengiz Sigua, and, in March 1992, they invited Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet minister, to come to Georgia to assume control of the Georgian State Council.[41]

On 24 June 1992, Shevardnadze and the South Ossetian government signed the Sochi ceasefire agreement, brokered by Russia. The agreement included obligations to avoid the use of force, and Georgia pledged not to impose sanctions against South Ossetia. The Georgian government retained control over substantial portions of South Ossetia,[47] including the town of Akhalgori. A Joined Peacekeeping force of Ossetians, Russians and Georgians was established. On 6 November 1992, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) set up a mission in Georgia to monitor the peacekeeping operation. From then until mid-2004 South Ossetia was generally peaceful.

Following the 2003 Rose Revolution, Mikheil Saakashvili became the President of Georgia in 2004. Ahead of the 2004 parliamentary and presidential elections, he promised to restore the territorial integrity of Georgia.[48] During one of his early speeches, Saakashvili addressed the separatist regions, saying, "[N]either Georgia nor its president will put up with disintegration of Georgia. Therefore, we offer immediate negotiations to our Abkhazian and Ossetian friends. We are ready to discuss every model of statehood by taking into consideration their interests for the promotion of their future development."[49]

Since 2004, tensions began to rise as the Georgian authorities strengthened their efforts to bring the region back under their rule. Georgia sent police to close down a black market, which was one of the region's chief sources of revenue, selling foodstuffs and fuel smuggled from Russia. This was followed by fighting by Georgian troops and peacekeepers against South Ossetian militiamen and freelance fighters from Russia.[50] Hostage takings, shootouts and occasional bombings left dozens dead and wounded. A ceasefire deal was reached on 13 August though it was repeatedly violated.

The Georgian government protested against the allegedly increasing Russian economic and political presence in the region and against the uncontrolled military of the South Ossetian side. It also considered the peacekeeping force (consisting in equal parts of South Ossetians, North Ossetians, Russians and Georgians) to be non-neutral and demanded its replacement.[51][52] Joseph Biden (Chairman, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee), Richard Lugar, and Mel Martinez sponsored a resolution accusing Russia of attempting to undermine Georgia's territorial integrity and called for replacing the Russian-manned peacekeeping force operating under CIS mandate.[53] According to U.S. senator Richard Lugar, the United States supported Georgia's call for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the conflict zones.[54] Later, EU South Caucasus envoy Peter Semneby said that "Russia's actions in the Georgia spy row have damaged its credibility as a neutral peacekeeper in the EU's Black Sea neighbourhood."[55]

2008 war

Main article: Russo-Georgian War

Tensions between Georgia and Russia began escalating in April 2008.[56] South Ossetian separatists committed the first act of violence when they blew up a Georgian military vehicle on 1 August, wounding five Georgian peacekeepers.[57] During the evening, Georgian snipers retaliated by attacking the South Ossetian border checkpoints.[58] Ossetian separatists began shelling Georgian villages on 1 August, with a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers and other fighters in the region.[56][59][60][61]

On 7 August, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, ordered a unilateral ceasefire at about 7 pm.[62] Georgia launched a large-scale military operation against South Ossetia during the night of 7–8 August 2008.[63] According to the EU fact-finding mission, 10,000–11,000 soldiers took part in the general Georgian offensive in South Ossetia.[64] The investigators found that "None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack" were valid, and that "it is not possible to accept that the shelling of Tskhinvali with Grad multiple rocket launchers and heavy artillery would satisfy the requirements of having been necessary and proportionate".[65][66] The official reason given by Tbilisi for this was to "restore constitutional order" in the region.[67]

After the heights around Tskhinvali were secured, Georgian troops with tanks and artillery support entered the town.[64] Georgian shelling left parts of Tskhinvali in ruins.[68] According to Russian military commander, over 10 Russian peacekeepers were killed on 8 August.[69] That day Russia officially sent troops across the Georgian border into South Ossetia,[70] claiming to be defending both peacekeepers and South Ossetian civilians.[71] Russia accused Georgia of committing "genocide".[72] Russian authorities claimed that the civilian casualties in Tskhinvali amounted up to 2,000.[73] These high casualty figures were later revised down to 162 casualties.[74]

In five days of fighting, the Russian forces captured Tskhinvali, pushed back Georgian troops, and largely destroyed Georgia’s military infrastructure using airstrikes deep inside the Georgia proper.[75] Russian and Abkhaz forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia. After the retreat of the Georgian forces, the Russians temporarily occupied the cities of Poti, Gori, Senaki, and Zugdidi.[76]

Both during and after the war, South Ossetian authorities and irregular militia conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Georgians in South Ossetia,[77] with Georgian villages around Tskhinvali being destroyed after the war had ended.[78] The war displaced 192,000 people,[79] and while many were able to return to their homes after the war, a year later around 30,000 ethnic Georgians remained displaced.[80] In an interview published in "Kommersant", South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said he would not allow Georgians to return.[81][82]

Through mediation by President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, the parties reached a ceasefire agreement on 12 August.[83] On 17 August, Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russian forces were to begin withdrawal on the next day.[84] On 8 October, Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The control of the buffer zones was handed over to the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.[85]

Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 26 August.[86] In response, the Georgian government cut diplomatic relations with Russia.[87] Since the war, Georgia has maintained that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are under Russian occupation and remain, legally, part of Georgia.[88][89]

Geography and climate

South Ossetia is in the very heart of the Caucasus at the juncture of Asia and Europe, and it occupies the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range and the foothills' part of the Kartalin Valley.[91] South Ossetia is a very mountainous region. The Likhi Range is roughly in the center of South Ossetia,[92] and the plateau that's also roughly in the center of South Ossetia is called Iberia.

The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range forms the northern border of South Ossetia with Russia, and the main roads through the mountain range into Russian territory lead through the Roki Tunnel between South and North Ossetia and the Darial Gorge. The Roki Tunnel was vital for the Russian military in the 2008 South Ossetia war because it is the only direct route through the Caucasus Mountains.

South Ossetia covers an area of about 3,900 km2 (1,506 sq mi),[93] separated by the mountains from the more populous North Ossetia (which is part of Russia) and extending southwards almost to the Mtkvari river in Georgia. More than 89% of South Ossetia lies over 1,000 m (3,281 ft) above sea level, and its highest point is Mount Khalatsa at 3,938 m (12,920 ft) above sea level.[94]

Nearby Mount Kazbek is 5,047 m (16,558 ft), and it is of volcanic origin. The region between Kazbek and Shkhara (a distance of about 200 km (124 mi) along the Main Caucasus Range) is dominated by numerous glaciers. Out of the 2,100 glaciers that exist in the Caucasus today, approximately 30% are located within Georgia which South Ossetia forms a part of.

The term Lesser Caucasus Mountains is often used to describe the mountainous (highland) areas of southern Georgia that are connected to the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range by the Likhi Range. The overall region can be characterized as being made up of various, interconnected mountain ranges (largely of volcanic origin) and plateaus that do not exceed 3,400 meters (11,155 ft) in elevation.

Most of South Ossetia is in the Kura Basin with the rest of it in the Black Sea basin. The Likhi and Racha ridges act as divide separating these two basins. Major rivers in South Ossetia include the Greater and Little Liakhvi, Ksani, Medzhuda, Tlidon, Canal Saltanis, Ptsa River and host of other tributaries.[94]

South Ossetia's climate is affected by subtropical influences from the East and Mediterranean influences from the West. The Greater Caucasus range moderates the local climate by serving as a barrier against cold air from the North, which results in the fact that, even at great heights, it is warmer there than in the Northern Caucasus.[91][94] Climatic zones in South Ossetia are determined by distance from the Black Sea and by altitude. The plains of eastern Georgia are shielded from the influence of the Black Sea by mountains that provide a more continental climate.

The foothills and mountainous areas (including the Greater Caucasus Mountains) experience cool, wet summers and snowy winters, with snow cover often exceeding 2 meters in many regions. The penetration of humid air masses from the Black Sea to the West of South Ossetia is often blocked by the Likhi mountain range. The wettest periods of the year in South Ossetia generally occur during spring and autumn while the winter and summer months tend to be the driest. Elevation plays an important role in South Ossetia where climatic conditions above 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) are considerably colder than in any lower-lying areas. The regions that lie above 2,000 metres (6,562 ft) frequently experience frost even during the summer months.

The average temperature in South Ossetia in January is around +4 degrees Celsius, and the average temperature in July is around +20.3 degrees Celsius. The average yearly liquid precipitation in South Ossetia is around 598 millimeters.[91] In general, Summer temperatures average 20 °C (68 °F) to 24 °C (75.2 °F) across much of South Ossetia, and winter temperatures average 2 °C (35.6 °F) to 4 °C (39.2 °F). Humidity is relatively low and rainfall across South Ossetia averages 500 to 800 mm (19.7 to 31.5 in) per year. Alpine and highland regions have distinct microclimates though. At higher elevations, precipitation is sometimes twice as heavy as in the eastern plains of Georgia. Alpine conditions begin at about 2,100 m (6,890 ft), and above 3,600 m (11,811 ft) snow and ice are present year-round.

South Ossetia's economy is primarily agricultural, although less than 10% of South Ossetia's land area is cultivated. Cereals, fruit and vines are the major produce. Forestry and cattle industries are also maintained. A number of industrial facilities also exist, particularly around the capital, Tskhinvali.

Political status

Russian Presidential Decree No. 1261 recognising South Ossetian independence.

Following the 2008 South Ossetia war, Russia recognized South Ossetia as independent.[95] This unilateral recognition by Russia was met by condemnation from Western Blocs, such as NATO, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Council due to the violation of Georgia's territorial integrity.[96][97][98][99] The EU's diplomatic response to the news was delayed by disagreements between Eastern European states, the UK wanting a harsher response and Germany, France and other states' desire not to isolate Russia.[100] Former US envoy Richard Holbrooke said the conflict could encourage separatist movements in other former Soviet states along Russia's western border.[101] Several days later, Nicaragua became the second country to recognize South Ossetia.[95] Venezuela recognised South Ossetia on September 10, 2009, becoming the third UN member state to do so.[102]

The European Union, Council of Europe, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and most UN member countries do not recognize South Ossetia as an independent state. The de facto republic governed by the secessionist government held a second independence referendum[103] on 12 November 2006, after its first referendum in 1992 was not recognized by most governments as valid.[104] According to the Tskhinvali election authorities, the referendum turned out a majority for independence from Georgia where 99% of South Ossetian voters supported independence and the turnout for the vote was 95%.[105] The referendum was monitored by a team of 34 international observers from Germany, Austria, Poland, Sweden and other countries at 78 polling stations.[106] However, it was not recognized internationally by the UN, European Union, OSCE, NATO and the Russian Federation, given the lack of ethnic Georgian participation and the legality of such a referendum without recognition from the Georgian government in Tbilisi.[107] The European Union, OSCE and NATO condemned the referendum.

Parallel to the secessionist held referendum and elections, to Eduard Kokoity, the then President of South Ossetia, the Ossetian opposition movement (People of South Ossetia for Peace) organized their own elections in contemporaneously Georgian-controlled areas within South Ossetia, in which Georgian and some Ossetian inhabitants of the region voted in favour of Dmitry Sanakoyev as the alternative President of South Ossetia.[108] The alternative elections of Sanakoyev claimed full support of the ethnic Georgian population.

In April 2007, Georgia created the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia[109][110][111][112] and staffed by ethnic Ossetian members of the separatist movement. Dmitry Sanakoyev was assigned as the leader of the Entity. It was intended that this provisional administration would negotiate with central Georgian authorities regarding its final status and conflict resolution.[113] On 10 May 2007, Sanakoyev was appointed by the President of Georgia as the Head of South Ossetian Provisional Administrative Entity.

On July 13, 2007, Georgia set up a state commission, chaired by the Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, to develop South Ossetia's autonomous status within the Georgian state. According to the Georgian officials, the status was to be elaborated within the framework of "an all-inclusive dialogue" with all the forces and communities within the Ossetian society.[114]

Integration with Russia

Russian military bases in South Ossetia as of 2015

On August 30, 2008, Tarzan Kokoity, the Deputy Speaker of South Ossetia's parliament, announced that the region would soon be absorbed into Russia, so that South and North Ossetians could live together in one united Russian state.[115] Russian and South Ossetian forces began giving residents in Akhalgori, the biggest town in the predominantly ethnic Georgian eastern part of South Ossetia, the choice of accepting Russian citizenship or leaving.[116] However, Eduard Kokoity, the then president of South Ossetia, later stated that South Ossetia would not forgo its independence by joining Russia: "We are not going to say no to our independence, which has been achieved at the expense of many lives; South Ossetia has no plans to join Russia." Civil Georgia has said that this statement contradicts previous ones made by Kokoity earlier that day, when he indicated that South Ossetia would join North Ossetia in the Russian Federation.[115][117]

The South Ossetian and Russian presidents signed an "alliance and integration" treaty on 18 March 2015.[118] The agreement includes provisions to incorporate the South Ossetian military into Russia's armed forces, integrate the customs service of South Ossetia into that of Russia's, and commit Russia to paying state worker salaries in South Ossetia at rates equal to those in the North Caucasus Federal District.[119] The Associated Press described the treaty as calling for "nearly full integration" and compared it to a 2014 agreement between Russia and Abkhazia.[118] The Georgian Foreign Ministry described the signing of the treaty as "actual annexation" of the disputed region by Russia, and the United States and European Union said they would not recognize it.[120][121]

In another move towards integration with the Russian Federation, South Ossetian President Leonid Tibilov proposed on December 29, 2015 a name change "emphasizing South Ossetia as part of Russia". According to Tibilov South Ossetia should to be named "South Ossetia-Alania" in analogy with "North Ossetia-Alania", a Russian federal subject. Tibilov furthermore expressed hopes that in the future this and a referendum on joining the Russian Federation to be held before April 2017 will lead to a united "Ossetia-Alania".[122] On April 11, 2016, Tibilov said he plans to hold the referendum before August of that year.[123][124] However, on May 30 Tibilov subsequently postponed the referendum until after the presidential election due in early 2017, where it will be a central issue.[125]

Law on Occupied Territories of Georgia

Landscape in South Ossetia's Dzhava District.

In late October 2008 President Saakashvili signed into law legislation on the occupied territories passed by the Georgian Parliament. The law covers the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (territories of former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast).[126][127][128] The law spells out restrictions on free movement and economic activity in the territories. In particular, according to the law, foreign citizens should enter the two breakaway regions only through Georgia proper. Entry into Abkhazia should be carried out from the Zugdidi District and into South Ossetia from the Gori District. The major road leading to South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia passes through the Gori District.

The legislation, however, also lists "special" cases in which entry into the breakaway regions will not be regarded as illegal. It stipulates that a special permit on entry into the breakaway regions can be issued if the trip there "serves Georgia’s state interests; peaceful resolution of the conflict; de-occupation or humanitarian purposes." The law also bans any type of economic activity – entrepreneurial or non- entrepreneurial, if such activities require permits, licenses or registration in accordance with Georgian legislation. It also bans air, sea and railway communications and international transit via the regions, mineral exploration and money transfers. The provision covering economic activities is retroactive, going back to 1990.

The law says that the Russian Federation – the state which has carried out military occupation – is fully responsible for the violation of human rights in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian Federation, according to the document, is also responsible for compensation of material and moral damage inflicted on Georgian citizens, stateless persons and foreign citizens, who are in Georgia and enter the occupied territories with appropriate permits. The law also says that de facto state agencies and officials operating in the occupied territories are regarded by Georgia as illegal. The law will remain in force until "the full restoration of Georgian jurisdiction" over the breakaway regions is realised.

In November 2009, during the opening ceremony of a new Georgian Embassy building in Kiev, Ukraine, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili stated that residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia could also use its facilities: "I would like to assure you, my dear friends, that this is your home, as well, and here you will always be able to find support and understanding".[129]


This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
South Ossetia
See also

Until the armed conflict of August 2008, South Ossetia consisted of a checkerboard of Georgian-inhabited and Ossetian-inhabited towns and villages.[130] The largely Ossetian capital city of Tskhinvali and most of the other Ossetian-inhabited communities were governed by the separatist government, while the Georgian-inhabited villages and towns were administered by the Georgian government. This close proximity and the intermixing of the two communities has made the Georgian–Ossetian conflict particularly dangerous, since any attempt to create an ethnically pure territory would involve population transfers on a large scale.

The political dispute has yet to be resolved and the South Ossetian separatist authorities govern the region with effective independence from Tbilisi. Although talks have been held periodically between the two sides, little progress was made under the government of Eduard Shevardnadze (1993–2003). His successor Mikheil Saakashvili (elected 2004) made the reassertion of Georgian governmental authority a political priority. Having successfully put an end to the de facto independence of the southwestern province of Ajaria in May 2004, he pledged to seek a similar solution in South Ossetia. After the 2004 clashes, the Georgian government has intensified its efforts to bring the problem to international attention. On 25 January 2005, President Saakashvili presented a Georgian vision for resolving the South Ossetian conflict at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe session in Strasbourg. Late in October, the US government and the OSCE expressed their support to the Georgian action plan presented by Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli at the OSCE Permanent Council at Vienna on 27 October 2005. On 6 December, the OSCE Ministerial Council in Ljubljana adopted a resolution supporting the Georgian peace plan[131] which was subsequently rejected by the South Ossetian de facto authorities.

Republic of South Ossetia

President Eduard Kokoity voting in the 2009 elections.

On September 11, 2006, the South Ossetian Information and Press Committee announced that the republic would hold an independence referendum[103] (the first referendum had not been recognized by the international community as valid in 1992)[132] on 12 November 2006. The voters would decide on whether or not South Ossetia "should preserve its present de facto status of an independent state". Georgia denounced the move as a "political absurdity". However, on 13 September 2006, the Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary General Terry Davis commented on the problem, stating that it would be unlikely that anyone would accept the results of this referendum and instead urged the South Ossetian government to engage in negotiations with Georgia.[133] On 13 September 2006 European Union Special Representative to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, while visiting Moscow, said: "results of the South Ossetian independence referendum will have no meaning for the European Union".[134] Peter Semneby also added that this referendum would not contribute to the peaceful conflict resolution process in South Ossetia.

Ethnic Ossetians and Russians living in South Ossetia nearly unanimously approved a referendum on 12 November 2006 opting for independence from Georgia. The referendum was hugely popular, winning between 98 and 99 percent of the vote; flag waving and celebrations were seen across South Ossetia, but elsewhere observers were less enthusiastic. Ethnic Georgians living in South Ossetia boycotted the referendum. International critics claimed that the move could worsen regional tensions, and the Tbilisi government thoroughly discounted the results. "Everybody needs to understand, once and for all, that no amount of referenda or elections will move Georgia to give up that which belongs to the Georgian people by God's will," declared Georgi Tsagareishvili, leader of the Industrialists bloc in Georgia's parliament.[135]

The People of South Ossetia for Peace was founded in October 2006 by ethnic Ossetians who were outspoken critics and presented a serious opposition to secessionist authorities of Eduard Kokoity.

The group headed by the former defence minister and then prime minister of the secessionist government Dmitry Sanakoyev organized the so-called alternative presidential election, on 12 November 2006—parallel to those held by the secessionist authorities in Tskhinvali.[108] High voter turnout was reported by the alternative electoral commission, which estimated over 42,000 voters from both Ossetian (Java district and Tskhinvali) and Georgian (Eredvi, Tamarasheni, etc.) communities of South Ossetia and Sanakoyev reportedly received 96% of the votes. Another referendum was organized shortly after asking for the start of negotiations with Georgia on a federal arrangement for South Ossetia received 94% support.

Initially, Sanakoyev's administration was known as "the Alternative Government of South Ossetia", but during the course of 2007 the central authorities of Georgia decided to give it official status and on 13 April the formation of the "Provisional Administration of South Ossetia" was announced.[136] On 10 May 2007 Dmitry Sanakoyev was appointed head of the provisional administrative entity in South Ossetia.[137]

An EU fact-finding team visited the region in January 2007. Per Eklund, Head of the Delegation of the European Community to Georgia[138] said that "None of the two alternatives do we consider legitimate [in South Ossetia]."[139]

The republic held its fourth presidential election in November 2011. Eduard Kokoity was not eligible to run for president for a third time, per the constitution. Anatoly Bibilov, supported by Russian authorities and Alla Dzhioeva, backed by main South Ossetian opposition figures, got about a quarter of the vote each and participated in the run-off vote.[140][141] A run-off was won by Dzhioyeva on November 27, 2011, but the results were invalidated by the Supreme Court of South Ossetia.[142] Leonid Tibilov won the 2012 election over David Sanakoyev after a run-off.[143]


Before the Georgian-Ossetian conflict roughly two-thirds of the population of South Ossetia was Ossetian and 25–30% was Georgian. The eastern quarter of the country, around the town and district of Akhalgori, was predominantly Georgian, while the center and west were predominantly Ossete. Much of the mountainous north is sparsely inhabited. (See map at Languages of the Caucasus.)

Because the statistical office of Georgia was not able to conduct the 2002 Georgian census in South Ossetia, the present composition of the population of South Ossetia is unknown,[144] although according to some estimates there were 47,000 ethnic Ossetians and 17,500 ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia in 2007.[145]

2009 Population Estimate: During the war, according to Georgian officials, 15,000 Georgians moved to Georgia proper; South Ossetian officials indicate that 30,000 Ossetians fled to North Ossetia, and a total of 500 citizens of South Ossetia were killed.[146][147] This left the estimated population at 54,500. However Russia's reconstruction plan involving 600 million dollars in aid to South Ossetia may have spurred immigration into the de facto independent republic, especially with Russia's movement of 3,700 soldiers into South Ossetia, in order to prevent further incursions.[148] RIA Novosti places the population of South Ossetia at 80,000, although this figure is probably too optimistic.[148]

Christianity is the major religion practiced by the Ossetians but Islam and the neopagan religion Ætsæg Din ("Right Faith") also have followers.[149]

Ethnicity 1926 census 1939 census 1959 census 1970 census 1979 census 1989 census 2007 estimate 2012 estimate 2015 census
Ossetians 60,351 (69.1%) 72,266 (68.1%) 63,698 (65.8%) 66,073 (66.5%) 65,077 (66.4%) 65,232 (66.2%) 47,000 (67.1%) 46,000 (89.1%) 48,146 (89.9%)
Georgians 23,538 (26.9%) 27,525 (25.9%) 26,584 (27.5%) 28,125 (28.3%) 28,187 (28.8%) 28,544 (29.0%) 17,500 (25.0%) 4,600 (8.9%) 3,966 (7.4%)
Russians 157 (0.2%) 2,111 (2.0%) 2,380 (2.5%) 1,574 (1.6%) 2,046 (2.1%) 2,128 (2.2%) 500 (1.0%) 610 (1.1%)
Armenians 1,374 (1.6%) 1,537 (1.4%) 1,555 (1.6%) 1,254 (1.3%) 953 (1.0%) 984 (1.0%)
Jews 1,739 (2.0%) 1,979 (1.9%) 1,723 (1.8%) 1,485 (1.5%) 654 (0.7%) 396 (0.4%)
Others 216 (0.2%) 700 (0.7%) 867 (0.9%) 910 (0.9%) 1,071 (1.1%) 1,453 (1.5%) 500 (1.0%) 810 (1.5%)
Total 87,375 106,118 96,807 99,421 97,988 98,527 70,000 51,572 53,532


The Dzuarikau–Tskhinvali pipeline, delivering natural gas from Russia to South Ossetia, went online in 2009.

Following the war in the 1990s, South Ossetia struggled economically. South Ossetian GDP was estimated at US$15 million (US$250 per capita) in a work published in 2002.[151] Employment and supplies are scarce. Additionally, Georgia cut off supplies of electricity to the region, which forced the South Ossetian government to run an electric cable through North Ossetia. The majority of the population survives on subsistence farming. Virtually the only significant economic asset that South Ossetia possesses is control of the Roki Tunnel that used to link Russia and Georgia, from which the South Ossetian government reportedly obtains as much as a third of its budget by levying customs duties on freight traffic.

President Eduard Kokoity has admitted that his country is seriously dependent on Russian economic assistance.[152]

South Ossetia's poverty threshold stood at 3,062 rubles a month in the fourth quarter of 2007, or 23.5 percent below Russia’s average, while South Ossetians have incomparably smaller incomes.[153]

Before the 2008 South Ossetia war, South Ossetia's industry consisted of 22 small factories, with a total production of 61.6 million rubles in 2006. In 2007, only 7 factories were functioning. In March, 2009, it was reported that most of the production facilities were standing idle and were in need of repairs. Even successful factories have a shortage of workers, are in debt and have a shortage of working capital.[153] One of the largest local enterprises is the Emalprovod factory, which has 130 employees.[153]

The South Ossetian authorities are planning to improve finances by boosting the local production of flour and thus reducing the need for flour imports. For this purpose, the area planted with wheat was increased tenfold in 2008 from 130 hectares to 1,500 hectares. The wheat harvest in 2008 was expected to be 2,500 tons of grain. The South Ossetian Agriculture ministry also imported some tractors in 2008, and was expecting delivery of more farm machinery in 2009.[153]

Russia planned to spend 10 billion rubles in the restoration of South Ossetia in 2008.[153]

The economy is currently very dependent on funding from Russia.[15][154]



The country's principal university is South Ossetia State University in Tskhinvali.[155] After the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, education officials attempted to place most college-bound students from South Ossetia in Russian post-secondary education institutions.[155]

See also


  1. South Ossetia (Ossetian: Хуссар Ирыстон, Khussar Iryston; Georgian: სამხრეთი ოსეთი, Samxreti Oseti; Russian: Южная Осетия, Yuzhnaya Osetiya)
    Tskhinvali Region (Georgian: ცხინვალის რეგიონი, Tsxinvalis regioni; Russian: Цхинвальский регион, Tskhinvalskiy region)


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