HYPOCRISY. There’s plenty of that to go around. NATO is taking its stance on the principle of territorial integrity – something that apparently didn’t apply in Kosovo – and Russia’s supposedly “disproportionate” response, despite NATO’s bombing of the Danube bridges in Novy Sad. For its part, Moscow is posing as a humanitarian hero – a quality in short supply in the Chechen wars, especially the first – and a defender of self-determination, ditto. So let us concentrate on the two salient facts, and ignore the posturing.

TWO FACTS. The first fact is that Ossetians do not want to be part of Georgia. And, apart from the Georgian Empire of the 1200s (and maybe not then either – note Alania on the map), Ossetia was only in the Georgian SSR because Stalin-Jughashvili, a Georgian, decided that it should be. There have been three wars since 1918 in which the Ossetians have made their feelings plain. The second fact is that South Ossetia trusts only Moscow, not NATO, the EU or the UN, for its protection. These are the central facts upon which any solution to this present mess must be based. The world made a mistake in recognising Georgia, and some other examples of Stalin’s cartographical jokes, without making the qualification that the secessionist problems had to be dealt with in a civilised fashion (as, for example, Kiev did with Crimea and Chisinau with the Gagauz; granting a sufficient degree of autonomy in each case).

RECOGNITION. After almost unanimous recommendations from the Federation Council and the Duma, Medvedev formally recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; here are the reasons he gave. Each is now pressing for Russian troops to be based in them. In my opinion, the recognition would have been better had it waited, but I don’t think Moscow cares any more: WTO membership is an ever-receding carrot; the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement seems to have been changed somehow (discussion); relations with NATO have never amounted to anything real; and as far as much opinion in the West is concerned, Russia is at fault anyway.

CASUALTIES IN SOUTH OSSETIA. The South Ossetian Prosecutor General Teimuraz Khugayev is reported by Interfax to have stated: “As of August 28, 1,692 people were killed and 1,500 were wounded as a result of the Georgian aggression. An estimated 3,500 citizens have been recognized as victims: those are the people who have lost their relatives and homes”. Having watched a lot of film from Tskhinvali, I do not find the numbers unbelievable but there is a disparity between the killed and wounded (normally the latter figure is two to three times the first. But Tskhinvali’s hospital was badly damaged early on).

INTERNATIONAL MONITORS. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has announced that Moscow would like to see international monitors replace Russian troops in the parts of Georgia adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia (EU and OSCE were mentioned) and Medvedev confirmed this today. This is consistent with the 6th point of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan (if that still exists).

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION. Generally speaking, the opposition has rallied around the flag. But I do not expect this to last. An opposition leader, Koba Davitashvili, has called for a government of national unity saying: “all decisions on the governing of the state should be taken not by one person, but collectively”. Saakashvili does not take kindly to collective decisions, as Davitashvili, a former close ally, knows. Nino Burjanadze, another former ally of Saakashvili, said recently: “I’m afraid it will not be very easy for the government to answer all the questions”. Other opposition members are beginning to point the finger at Saakashvili. Something to watch.

MORE FROZEN CONFLICTS. Another of Stalin’s cartographical legacies is the territory on the east bank of the Dnepr; it was used as the nucleus of the Moldavian SSR pending the acquisition of the necessary territory from Romania in 1940. During the breakup of the USSR, when many in Moldova could only think that they should join Romania, the inhabitants of Transdnestr balked and a war began. The situation has been “frozen” since then and a tripartite peacekeeping force keeps the temperature down. Another Stalin decision to put people where they do not want to be is Karabakh in Azerbaijan. Again fighting broke out in the late 1980s and early 1990s and again the secessionists won. There is a ceasefire agreement which has held reasonably well but very little political movement. I believe that the inhabitants of Transdnestr can stomach being in Moldova with a reasonable degree of autonomy, but the inhabitants of Karabakh will never accept rule from Baku.

© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada