The last few days have shown that the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict is continuing to escalate. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's recent statement that his country would not pull down its check-points or withdraw interior ministry troops from the conflict zone directly contradicted the agreements reached with the Joint Control Commission on the situation that met in Moscow on July 15. This means that Tbilisi is unlikely to give up his policy of bringing military pressure to bear on the self-proclaimed republic of South Ossetia.
Georgia's withdrawal from the earlier agreements - Saakashvili has publicly announced this possibility - will mean a deadlock for the peace process, "as precisely these agreements help keep the situation from developing into a conflict," reads an official comment from the Russian Foreign Ministry "all the more so as they envisage mechanisms for solving every possible disputable issue. One of these mechanisms is the Joint Control Commission."
"Any breach of the agreements could entail a resumption of the conflict," Moscow warns.
South Ossetia's reaction to Georgia's possible denunciation of the Dagomys agreement was unambiguous. According to its Foreign Ministry, this "means a return to the war that this agreement managed to stop in 1992."
Vagif Guseinov, director of the Strategic Assessment and Analysis Institute and editor-in-chief of the Vestnik Analitiki magazine, said in an exclusive interview with RIA Novosti, "Saakashvili's latest extremist and even provocative comments towards Russia, his threats to denounce the agreements on South Ossetia and demand that Russian peacekeepers be withdrawn, are to a certain degree designed to direct the population's discontent towards Russia. He does not even stop at threats to use force. But you have to understand that South Ossetia is no Adzharia; there is also the factor of North Ossetia (which is part of Russia - A.P.). So there should be no alternative to a political solution to the South Ossetian situation."
Despite the generally alarming background, Alexei Malashenko, expert with the Moscow Carnegie Centre, sounds reassuring. In an interview with RIA Novosti, he suggested, "despite the unpleasant incidents with regard to the Georgians' behaviour towards Ossetians and vice versa, the tension will be defused to some extent and the war everyone fears will not begin." He believes that "all the parties are playing on the opportunity of the conflict but are in fact afraid of it. Consequently, everything will return to as it was, i.e., the status quo will be maintained. I expect there will be peace," Malashenko declared.
However, with Georgian troops amassing on the South Ossetian border, the bellicose statements made by Givi Iukuridze, Georgia's chief of the General Staff, that the country's armed forces will successfully fulfil their objectives should hostilities break out, have fuelled tensions in the already pressurised atmosphere.
The war of nerves being fought today in South Ossetia has many hidden dangers. At some moment, one of the parties may crack, leading to the situation spiralling out of control. Developments will then be hard to predict, as war follows its own logic.