North Ossetia covers 8,000 square km and has 632,428 inhabitants, 61 percent Ossets, 30 percent Russians and 10-15 percent Ingush. Most of the Ingush have returned to Ingushia.
Refugees are also a major issue in North Ossetia, including both Ingush leaving North Ossetia for Ingushia and Ossets leaving South Ossetia and Georgia for North Ossetia. More than 100,000 refugees in a republic with a total of 600,000 to 700,000 inhabitants necessarily constitute an extraordinary economic problem, particularly with regard to the provision of jobs in times of crisis. On a short term, housing is less of a problem than in Ingushia, because North Ossetia has large numbers of sanitoria and has, for the time being, very few tourists. Refugees from South Ossetia were settled in the unstable Prigorodry district with predominantly Ingush settlements, which was one of the causes of the violent clashes. Yet no solution to the problems in South Ossetia is in sight. South Ossets feel heavily repressed in Georgia and demand the reunion of their abolished republic with the republic of North Ossetia. They took an active part in the fight against the Ingush, thereby marking their solidarity with North Ossetia.
Also, claims for a reunion within the Russian Federation are voiced from traditionally Moscow-friendly Ossetian politicians. The political leadership in North Ossetia is - as in most of the North Caucasus - conservative out of a fear that changes might imply new conflicts. There is a dilemma between continuing the Moscow-friendly line and working actively for an integration of the North Caucasus. Much will depend on Russia's role in finding a solution to the Prigorodny dispute, and on whether Russia will allow Georgia to reintegrate with South Ossetia or vice versa.
As outlined in the presentation of Ingushia's claims to North Ossetia, the question of Ingush territory within the borders of North Ossetia has not been solved either. Ossetia received the territory when the Ingush were deported and has been reluctant to accept their resettlement in their former homeland. Ossetia even adopted a law in 1982 prohibiting residence permits for the Ingush minority. This had the effect, among others, of the number of Ingush living without propiska in North Ossetia equalling the number of official residents. Promises of territorial rehabilitation were seen as interference in their internal affairs. In the course of peace talks, Ossetia suggested swapping populations: Ingushia should accept the loss of Prigorodny and formerly Ingush inhabited parts of Vladikavkaz, and in return Ossetia would accept Cossacks from Ingushia and Chechnia to Prigorodny. This suggestion has so far proved unrealistic as neither Ingush nor Cossacks appear to be interested.
The capital Vladikavkaz was the first Russian centre that was established in the North Caucasus during the Russian conquest. Ossets have the lowest annual population increase (approximately 1 per cent from 1979-89) in the North Caucasus and the highest degree of urbanisation. Russians never give up their stronghold in the North Caucasus and the Georgian military highway, the main overland road over the Caucasus range to the Georgian capital Tiflis, the Republic has a strategically important geographical location.