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Geopolitics

In Georgia, Fears Of Being Back On Putin's Hit List

Putin has not forgotten about the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, which wants to decide in July whether to join Russia. People here still remember when the Russian army invaded while the West looked on. And there is growing worry that this could soon happen again.

A man walks past a building marked with the Russian Army Z in celebration of Victory Day in Tskhinval, South Ossetia.

Gregor Schwung

ERGNETI — Every time Russian troops exercise in South Ossetia, people in this Georgian border village hear the artillery. The aftershock reverberations are already causing the stones in Lia Khlachidze’s house to crumble off the wall. She lives in Ergneti, only about 100 meters as the crow flies from the demarcation line.

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The 69-year-old is standing in her cellar, leafing through a book until she finds a particular page. On it is the footprint of a Russian soldier. “In 2008, Russia invaded here and burned and devastated everything,” Lia says. “They didn’t want us to come back.”

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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