Unconstrained, Russia Eyes More Georgian Territories

by Giorgi Kvelashvili

On September 23 the pro- Kremlin news agency Regnum published an interview with Gairbek Salbiev, who allegedly leads an organization called Darial Public Movement. According to Regnum, the prime objective of the newly created organization is “uniting 33 Ossetian villages of the Truso, Kobi and Guda Valleys of Georgia’s Kazbegi region,” in order to “bring back to South Ossetia the lands taken from it by Georgian Bolsheviks in 1921.”

Salbiev claims that “after the breakup of the Soviet Union local Ossetians adopted Russian citizenship” and have since been trying to unite with “South Ossetia.”

He also told Regnum that his organization had recently sent a delegation to Eduard Kokoity – the pro- Kremlin leader in Tskhinvali, a Russian occupied Georgian region –requesting “South Ossetian citizenship for the 1,500 [Ossetian] residents,” allegedly living in the abovementioned villages.

Regnum’s major message, though, was not only to reveal the “problem” of ethnic Ossetians residing in villages adjacent to “South Ossetia” but also to talk about the “dire necessity to bring Ossetian lands back to South Ossetia,” of which Kokoity had already informed “the head of the Russian state.”

Regnum and other Russian media outlets have been persistently writing about “the Ossetian – in fact, Russian – territorial claims” at least since the spring 2009.

Kokoity first mentioned the issue during an interview with the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti on July 30 in which he said that he has “very serious territorial issues that will have to be raised…First of all, it is the question of the Truso Valley, currently within the boundaries of Georgia…It is historically an Ossetian land…Today we must raise the issue of its return to South Ossetia”.

The Russian language version of the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, echoing Russian media outlets, mentions “65 Ossetian familial clans of whom the Truso Valley is ancestral home.”

On May 23 yet another Russian website, ugo-osetia.ru, published the transcript of “the first news conference by the Russian ambassador to South Ossetia Elbrus Kargiev” who said that “We repeatedly receive appeals from residents of the Kazbegi district of Georgia, the Truso Valley…to solve the issue of the Kazbegi district as we have already solved the issue of South Ossetia.” Kargiev, nonetheless, pointed out that “at this stage it would be impossible to annex the district from the standpoint of international law.”

The Kazbegi district, of which the Truso Valley is part, is located in a strategically important northeastern segment of Georgia bordering the Russian Federation across the Caucasus Ridge. The Truso Valley, with picturesque alpine meadows, pristine spring and mineral water deposits flows into the Georgian Military Highway along the Tergi (Terek) River, connecting the occupied Tskhinvali region, Russia’s own North Ossetia and the major Georgian regional town of Kazbegi. Control over the Truso Valley almost automatically means control over the town of Kazbegi to the north and the Georgian Military Highway leading to the Georgian Capital of Tbilisi to the south.

By occupying the Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia, Russia already controls some of the most important heights and mountain passes in central and western Georgia. However, the highest peak in eastern Georgia, Mount Mkinvartsveri and its vicinity near Kazbegi remain in Georgia’s hands.

One year after its military aggression against Georgia, Russia, is apparently trying to not only secure the already impressive territorial gains it has made but to explore the feasibility of more expansion. As was the recent case with navigation in Georgia’s territorial waters along the Abkhazia coast, local adjutants’ claims nearly always precede Russian “concrete” and “decisive” measures, all in the absence of unequivocal international condemnation of the Russian moves.

Arguably, an occupation and annexation of the Truso Valley, let alone of the entire Kazbegi district, is more difficult to justify than the naval control of Georgia’s Abkhazia coast, but given the all-powerful “ethnic” and “humanitarian” nature of the “problem” – as portrayed by the Kremlin – in the Kazbegi district, it would not be impossible for the Russians “to come to the rescue of ethnic Ossetians” once again.

Russia is apparently creating advantageous international conditions to overthrow the pro-Western Saakashvili government in order to complete the process of Georgia’s disintegration.