It should strike us as pretty odd when the top diplomat of a major power promises to defend something that doesn't exist.
But that is exactly what Sergei Lavrov did this week.
Speaking at a youth festival in Sochi, the Russian foreign minister vowed that Moscow will respect, protect, and uphold the sovereignty of South Ossetia.
Now, South Ossetian sovereignty, of course, is a fiction.
South Ossetia is effectively a Russian-occupied protectorate -- and the only countries other than Russia that recognize it as an independent state are Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru.
According to international law, South Ossetia is part of Georgia.
So when Lavrov says Moscow will respect, protect, and uphold the sovereignty of South Ossetia, what he really means is that Russia will continue to disrespect, subvert, and undermine the sovereignty of Georgia.
Lavrov's pledge to defend South Ossetia's nonexistent sovereignty is, of course, not all that unusual.
Russian officials often talk about make-believe things.
They've pledged to defend Ukraine's border with Crimea, which also doesn't exist, since -- according to international law -- Crimea is part of Ukraine.
And they regularly call for diplomacy to resolve the so-called civil war in the Donbas, which also doesn't exist since the conflict in eastern Ukraine is a war of aggression instigated by Russia and Russia alone.
There is, of course, a reason for all this talk about imaginary things.
Every time Lavrov or another Kremlin official talks about the make-believe -- be it South Ossetian sovereignty, the Ukrainian-Crimean border, or the civil war in the Donbas -- the imaginary becomes normalized and reified.
It's a clever rhetorical trick, and we should not play along.
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