South Ossetia: Inside Georgia but dependent on Russia

 

South Ossetia is a territory of around 4,000sq km (1,544sq mls), situated about 100km north of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountains.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s spurred a separatist movement in South Ossetia, which had always felt more affinity with Russia than with Georgia.

It broke away from Georgian rule in a war in 1991-92, in which several thousand people died, and continues to maintain close ties with the neighbouring Russian region of North Ossetia, on the north side of the Caucasus.

The majority of the roughly 70,000 people are ethnically distinct from Georgians, and speak their own language, related to Farsi.

They say they were forcibly absorbed into Georgia under Soviet rule and now want to exercise their right to self-determination. The separatist leader is Eduard Kokoity.

In November 2006, villages inside South Ossetia still under Georgian control elected a rival leader, former separatist Dmitry Sanakoyev. He is endorsed by Tbilisi, but his authority only extends to a small part of the region.

Around two-thirds of South Ossetia's annual budget revenues of around $30 million (€19.9 milllion) come directly from Moscow. Almost all the population hold Russian passports. They use the Russian rouble as their currency.

A peacekeeping force with 500 members each from Russia, Georgia and North Ossetia monitors a supposed truce. Georgia accuses the Russian peacekeepers of siding with the separatists, which Moscow denies.

Sporadic clashes between separatist and Georgian forces have killed dozens of people in the last few years.