I was going to write about this yesterday, because in these days of vastly diminished foreign news staff on national newspapers, the fact that a story about the breakaway Georgian wannabe state made the notoriously understaffed Independent yesterday should indicate that this ongoing standoff was beginning to get more heated. Overnight, sure enough, Georgian forces have moved into place and surrounded the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, with a number of people killed in shelling and airstrikes that started up only a few hours after Russia had negotiated a ceasefire.
For background you could do far worse than Fistful’s handy introduction to South Ossetia from back in March, alongside (as ever) Wikipedia on the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, before noting this New York Times article from April, putting Russia’s renewed interest in the Georgian situation firmly in the context of the aftermath of Kosovo’s independence.
You may also want to have a gander at this map of the ethnic makeup of the Caucasus region, which may also indicate why Russia’s so interested. Yep – the Ossetians are slap-bang on the same frontier as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, all of which have spent most of the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union more or less in conflict with both the Kremlin and each other, either directly or thanks to fallout from the decidedly unpleasant Chechen wars.
This could, as with all conflicts in the Caucasus, get nasty. Wikipedia seems to have good coverage, EurasiaNet is good on the recent tensions, while this blog seems to be being written by a British energy policy consultant in Georgian capital Tblisi, noting that army reservists are being called up and provides some analysis, while also pointing to this handy UN-funded English-language Georgian news site, which is providing more regular and detailed coverage than anywhere else I’ve found so far.