You remember South Ossetia, right? The place, previously part of Gruzia (i.e. Georgia in the Caucasus) that allegedly wanted to be “independent” and which achieved this blessed state in 2008 with help from Russian troops?
Well, independence under Russian auspices does not seem to have worked out too well. Yesterday, the Czech online newsmagazine iDNES published a lengthy article titled We, Too, Celebrated, But We Lost Our Illusions Soon Enough; A Message from South Ossetia to the Crimea. (translation mine)
The article is long, but here are the essential parts:
- Five and a half years ago, the Ossetians celebrated. Today, their enthusiasm is much dampened.
- The local elites dreamed of attracting hordes of tourists and turning South Ossetia into a local version of Andorra or Monaco. But this did not happen.
- Today, South Ossetia’s economy is totally dependent on infusions of cash from Moscow. Unemployment is high, and prices are skyrocketing. All goods are brought in via a three kilometer-long tunnel that had been excavated through the Caucasus Mountains two thousand meters above sea level.
- Local politics are in the hands of absolute Moscow loyalists who had suddenly become rich, driving around in shiny limousines. On the other hand, buildings damaged during the Russo-Georgian war have yet to be repaired.
- People who live in the damaged buildings have gradually begun to wonder where the promised aid from Moscow had gotten to. According to a local analyst, Alexei Malashenko, only about 30% of Russian money had reached those in need. Local officials kept the rest, possibly up to $22 million.
- The new order has destroyed the local economy, which had consisted primarily of apple growing and smuggling vodka and drugs into Russia. An anonymous resident of the capital Tskhinvali reported that she had recently paid the equivalent of $6 for a cup of tea in town.
- Ossetians are increasingly complaining about the behavior of Russian soldiers in their republic. (There is an estimated 5,000 Russian troops and up to 1,000 Russian border guards in the country.)
- Ossetians generally like the idea of independence but some of them are still hopeful that their statelet will be one day incorporated into Russia which (so they hope) will bring more employment and higher incomes.
And the plum:
- Leonid Tibilov, the current president of South Ossetia and a former KGB officer, was one of the first to welcome the annexation of the Crimea by Russia.
- And while the world was staring in the direction of the Crimea, armed personnel in unmarked uniforms were completing the construction of fences that definitively separate South Ossetia from Georgia.