In the Soviet Union, South Ossetia was an Autonomous Oblast within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. This status guaranteed its Ossetian population certain rights and protections. When Georgian leaders moved towards independence in the early 1990s, they introduced Georgian as the main language of the whole republic and limited the rights of formerly autonomous polities within Georgian territory. In response, South Ossetian leaders proclaimed the independence of their oblast (upgrading it to the status of a republic and asserting sovereignty) and expressed their desire to remain part of the Soviet Union. Following the failed August 1990 coup d’état in Moscow, Soviet troops began withdrawing from the territory of Georgia, allegedly arming the Ossetian population on their way.1 In December 1990, the Georgian administration declared a state of emergency in South Ossetia and the following month sent armed police into the region to disarm Ossetian militia. This sparked a clash in Tskhinvali (the de facto capital of South Ossetia) which left the town divided, before the Georgians withdrew following the mediation of a ceasefire by Soviet authorities. The fighting escalated considerably in the spring of 1991, causing widespread destruction but changing little on the ground: Georgian forces were unable to make any ground into South Ossetia.2
With little progress on the battlefield, Georgian leaders chose to blockade and besiege South Ossetia as winter settled in 1991. Fighting took place again in 1992, but a change in Georgian leadership and the growing crisis in Abkhazia diminished the prospect of renewed offensives in the summer.3 However, it was not until dozens of civilians were killed in May 1992 and South Ossetian forces were found to be using heavy weaponry (representing a potential escalation of the conflict) that the belligerents met for talks. In June, representatives of the Government of Georgia met with the regional leadership of North Ossetia (within Russia), agreeing to a ceasefire and the formation of a joint monitoring and peacekeeping force. These negotiations served as the basis for the Sochi Agreement, which was signed by Georgian and Russian leaders on 24 June 1992.4 In addition to a formal ceasefire, the agreement established the Joint Control Commission and the Russian-led Joint Peacekeeping Force of approximately 2,000 personnel from the Russian, Georgian, and South Ossetian armed forces to uphold the peace.5 This framework succeeded in keeping the peace in South Ossetia until 2008, when an interstate conflict erupted between Georgia and Russia.