Everyone in the Caucasus has reasons to worry about which direction Crimea’s vote goes this Sunday, but for their own reasons. For the breakaway regions, the conflict may have implications for their own future.
Already, it is affecting their actions. On March 12, the de-facto authorities in Abkhazia detained a Ukrainian TV crew that had come to gauge local reactions to the Crimea crisis. After hours of interrogation, which caused alarm and worry back in their station’s newsroom, the journalists were kicked out of Abkhazia into next-door Russia, the Ukrainian site Censor.net.ua reported.
Two more reporters with the same Ukrainian station, 1+1, have been detained in North Ossetia, the Russian twin of breakaway South Ossetia, on the Georgian side of the Caucasus mountains. The journalists, who were released after five hours of questioning, said that local officials have orders to watch out for sightings of Ukrainians.
Journalists are now asking both regions' de-facto authorities questions about any plans to follow Crimea’s suit and seek merger with Russia.
In South Ossetia specifically, such ideas, linked with the idea of union with North Ossetia, have significant backing. The de-facto administration in Tskhinvali told Russia’s Dozhd’ TV that it needs to wait for a national plebiscite law that would simplify the procedure of joining Russia.
In Abkhazia, the de-facto foreign minister, Vyacheslav Chirikba, said, that, “at this stage,” they are not thinking about uniting with Russia. The territory’s laws ban holding referenda on changing its status, he pointed out to Dozhd'.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia may differ in how seriously they take their de-facto sovereignty, but they share the fate of living in limbo, with most of the world refusing to put them on the map.
Furthest away, both in geography and context, stands Nagorno Karabakh. Its separatist leadership looks far more to Armenia than to Russia for any lifelines, but it is also territory that Russia uses to keep both hands on the region, critics say. Nonetheless, few would argue that its absorption into Russia makes any sense.
Unless, that is, you are Russian Duma member Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Alternatively seen a madman or a mouthpiece for the Kremlin’s most radical views, Zhirinovsky has just suggested that Russia take over Nagorno Karabakh.