LONDON – A year ago, tiny Georgia tried to regain control over its breakaway enclave of South Ossetia. The Russians quickly expelled the Georgian army, to almost universal opprobrium from the West. South Ossetia, together with Abkhazia (combined population 300,000), promptly declared their “independence,” creating two new fictional sovereignties, and acquiring in the process all the official trappings of statehood: national heroes, colorful uniforms, anthems, flags, frontier posts, military forces, presidents, parliaments, and, most important, new opportunities for smuggling and corruption.
So far, only Russia and Nicaragua recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian recognition was widely seen as retaliation for Western recognition of Kosovo (population two million), the breakaway province of Serbia, earlier last year.
A thousand miles to the west of Georgia is Moldova (population 3.5 million), which lies between Romania and Ukraine. Annexed by Tsarist Russia in 1812, joined to Romania in 1918, and re-annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, it seized its independence from Moscow in 1991. It is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and various other prestigious international bodies.
Moldova’s main claim to fame is King Stephen the Great, who defeated the Ottomans in a great fifteenth century battle. It also produces rather good wine. An enduring memory from my own recent visit to its capital Chisinau is the election poster of a local politician called Lupu, who holds a pair of spectacles to his eyes, whether to suggest visions or wisdom isn’t clear.