A topical one this time! To have one phantom country occupying your claimed national territory would be unfortunate, to have two looks rather suspicious. This is the situation in which Georgia finds itself, with South Ossetia being the second of its secessionist regions. Like Abkhazia, South Ossetian secessionism has an ethnic base, with the region having many people who apparently consider themselves ethnic Ossetians. Stalin had drawn the internal borders of the USSR such that South Ossetia was part of Georgia (while neighbouring North Ossetia was in the Russian Federation). I have a vague memory of there being some trouble in South Ossetia even before the break-up of the Soviet Union, but it was when Georgia became independent that things seriously deteriorated. A war between South Ossetian separatists and the Georgian centre erupted in the 1990s, ending with an unrecognised regime being established in the enclave and Russian troops deployed there as "peace-keepers" to protect it. Until the start of the current unpleasantness, the conflict has remained frozen.
I can't tell you too much about the nature of the South Ossetian regime, or whether its leaders aspire to full independence or to joining their North Ossetian friends as part of Russia. The region looks chunky enough on a map, but from media reports I gather that its population (before the current unfortunate events) was pretty small, so maybe independence is not a realistic aspiration. It looks also like the South Ossetian regime is so dependent on Russia for protection from Georgia that it is hard to imagine it ever trying to pursue a fully independent course.
And so to current events. The rights and wrongs of the situation depend on your view of whether sub-regions of a state have a right to secede, and whether a state has the right to use force against secessionists. My impression is that international law hates secessionists, but then international law is written by national governments so this is not too surprising. Whatever about the morality of the situation, Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, comes across as something of a clown. The first rule of statecraft is never start a war you can’t win. Georgia had previously tried to undermine South Ossetian separatism using the disco power of Boney M, but then earlier this month Saakashvili escalated the frozen conflict, launching an offensive against the separatists and bombarding their capital. Maybe he thought that his US-trained army could over-run South Ossetia before the Russians reacted. Unfortunately for him, the Russian response was rapid and Israel-like in its disproportion to the initial Georgian attacks. Georgian forces were rapidly shattered and Russian soldiers moved beyond South Ossetia into Georgia-proper while Russian jets ranged at will over the country. If Saakashvili thought that his American pals would bail him out then he must now be cruelly disappointed; Bush and Rice issued statements about how concerned they are, but they are plainly not going to risk a direct confrontation with Russia.
For South Ossetia, I reckon that the net effect of Saakashvili's rash offensive is to make that region forever outside effective Georgian control, with its future destiny likely to be in ever closer links to Russia. The same is probably true of Abkhazia. For Georgia itself, I reckon its chances of joining NATO are now dead. If the country was in NATO now, then the alliance would be at war with Russia. Anyone with half a brain will not want the alliance expanded to include a country led by adventurists who could embroil them in a third world war at the drop of a hat. The Georgians themselves might be wise to replace Saakashvili with someone with a more realistic appreciation of their country's capabilities and a less reckless approach to conflict resolution. Ironically, Putin and Medvedev's declared unwillingness to deal with Saakashvili might just be enough to keep him in office, as no one likes an external actor telling you whom to have as your leader.