Here's the first context - the Caucasus is a messy place, ethnicity-wise. Lots of different peoples living cheek by jowl:
Here's the second context. Let's call it the Russian version of events. The key to this map is to look a little to the right of the conflict zone in Ossetia. Yup, that really is Chechnya right next door:
One final context to this conflict. Let's call this the Georgian version of events. Key to reading this one is awareness that all other pipelines go through Russia to the West, with the obvious knock-on effects on Western Europe's energy security:
there are more interesting maps relating to the energy issue and the Georgian conflict from Nosemonkey, well worth reading on this issue.