Georgian-Russian Conflict: Redrawing the Map?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Last month, as Russian tanks rolled into South Ossetia – a small, breakaway region of Georgia located in the Caucasus Mountains – people around the globe were jolted into troubling memories of Soviet-era aggression. The Russians were reacting to the actions of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who ordered his troops into South Ossetia, which had fought for its independence from Georgia in the early 1990s.

Many in the world community saw Russia’s military response to pleas for help from South Ossetia as a pretext to invade Georgia, which it promptly did. Lisa Baglione, chair and professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, sees the incipient Georgian-Russian conflict, and other clashes that have erupted throughout the region – in Croatia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and elsewhere – as a complex problem related to the devolution of sovereignty.

“When the Soviet Union dissolved, nation-state boundaries in collapsed communist empires came under contention,” says Baglione. “The world watched, and for the most part, approved, as former republics declared their statehood.”

However, to complicate matters, several of the new states encompassed long-standing autonomous regions with distinct ethnicities that hoped for their own national self-determination, too, Baglione says.

“In the post-Cold War context, allowing for self-determination and sovereignty of all peoples has been a taxing dilemma,” she noted. “Recognizing one group’s independence necessarily imposes on another group’s desires, and elicits calls for more redrawing of borders.”

While the immediate causes of the recent Georgian-Russian conflict remain murky, Baglione says one thing is clear: “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the self-determination policies followed by the great world powers helped create this dangerous situation, in which civilians are dying and conflict threatens to spread.”

She adds that because recent policies have led us to this difficult point, the world community should recognize its mistakes, and begin dealing with each conflict independently, in order to seek a stable and peaceful outcome.

Baglione, an expert in the transformation of the Russian polity and economy in the early post-communist period, can be reached for comment at, 610-660-1749, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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