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Russia takes a bite out of state sovereignty

The real clash with Georgia is sovereignty vs. self-determination.

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The roots of the current Russo-Georgian crisis are complex. Geopolitically, the Russian invasion of Georgia represents Moscow's attempt to reassert its dominance in the Caucasus and Central Asia while sending a message that Russia is now strong enough to counter Western incursions into its sphere of influence.

But in so doing, the Russians are also exploiting a dangerous and frequent source of conflict in the international arena: the clash between sovereignty and self-determination.

In this case, it's the sovereignty of Georgia, an independent state recognized by the international community, that's in conflict with the self-determination of the South Ossetians.

They are a disaffected minority within Georgia who wish to secede and unite with North Ossetia, which is under Russia's political control. Russia has recognized South Ossetia's "independence," exploiting the attempted secession to punish Georgia for its defiance of Russian power and to deny Georgia's attempt to align itself with the liberal West.

The modern state, for all its shortcomings, has been a source of stability in the international system. Unfortunately for international peace and security, state boundaries often include populations that do not wish to be part of a given state.

Such populations are motivated by the principle of ethnic or national self-determination, a principle associated with nationalism, the belief in a common identity based on blood or language.

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