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What's Next For South Ossetia And Abkhazia?

South Ossetia's Eduard Kokoity (left) has called unification with North Ossetia a "primary aim," while Sergai Bagapsh of Abkhazia has staked his reputation on independence
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's formal decision to recognize Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states is unlikely to constitute the final word on the status of either. South Ossetia, in particular, has virtually no chance of surviving as a viable statelet. In contrast, Abkhazia has potential for developing both agriculture and tourism, and has a sizeable diaspora in Turkey that could provide badly needed investment.

Even though Medvedev tasked the Russian Foreign Ministry with drafting treaties on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, South Ossetia is almost certainly likely to be subsumed into the Russian Federation sooner rather than later. Indeed, its de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, was quoted by on May 20 as saying that "the primary aim of South Ossetia is unification with North Ossetia within the composition of Russia. We have never made any secret of this."

North Ossetian President Teimuraz Mamsurov too has described unification of the Ossetian nation within a single territorial entity as righting a historic injustice. The appointment last week of Russian Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak to oversee post-conflict economic reconstruction in South Ossetia indicates that Moscow will continue to call the shots there.

The Russian Federation's constitution provides for admitting new territorial entities with the mutual consent of both parties, and also for redrawing or abolishing the borders between federation subjects, again with their mutual consent. Moreover, most of the population of both regions already have Russian passports, although Abkhazia began issuing its own earlier this year.

Just hours after Medvedev announced he had signed the appropriate decrees recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Aleksei Ostrovsky, who chairs the Russian State Duma's Committee for Ties with the CIS and Compatriots, told Ekho Moskvy that he does not rule out the two regions becoming part of Russia if their populations so desire.

Incorporating Abkhazia would pose a greater problem for Moscow insofar as its de facto president, Sergei Bagapsh, has staked his reputation on independence for Abkhazia and is unlikely to do a U-turn. Vice president Raul Khadjimba and Aruaa, the opposition union of veterans of the 1992-93 war with Georgia, are by contrast favorably disposed toward Russia.