The protracted standoff
in Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia between Alla Dzhioyeva, the opposition candidate whose victory in a presidential runoff ballot last November was annulled by the republic's Supreme Court, and the republic's leaders may be close to an end.
Dzhioyeva met on January 23 with Moscow-backed de facto acting President Vadim Brovtsev for talks
that both sides described as "constructive," and which they plan to continue.
This could herald a compromise agreement
along the lines proposed by Dzhioyeva in December, whereby she is inaugurated as president, but the repeat presidential ballot scheduled for March 25 goes ahead as planned, and she undertakes to back whichever candidate is acceptable to Moscow.
Just days ago, it seemed that a new confrontation between Dzhioyeva and the republic's authorities was inevitable.
On January 18, Dzhioyeva wrote to Brovtsev saying she was withdrawing her signature from the protocol
she co-signed with outgoing de facto President Eduard Kokoity on December 9 to end the mass protests by her supporters over the annulment of the runoff ballot, in which Dzhioyeva polled over 50 percent of the vote, defeating Moscow's preferred candidate, South Ossetian Minister for Emergency Situations Anatoly Bibilov.
Kokoity had been barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive presidential term.
Under that agreement, Dzhioyeva recognized the legality
of the parliament decree scheduling the repeat ballot on March 25 and undertook to tell her supporters to disperse.
In return, she was guaranteed the right to participate in the repeat election and immunity from prosecution for her political views
Kokoity for his part stepped down, and dismissed two of his close associates whom the opposition perceived as having either persecuted opposition and human rights activists, or connived in the annulment of the election results: Supreme Court Chairman Atsamaz Bichenov and Prosecutor-General Taymuraz Khugayev.
The parliament, however, which is dominated by the pro-Kokoity Unity and People's parties, refused to endorse
"Kommersant" last week quoted an unnamed government official
as admitting that by demanding only that Kokoity dismiss the men in question, Dzhioyeva and her supporters "walked into a trap, but whose fault is that?"
Prime Minister Brovtsev, a Russian citizen, took over from Kokoity as acting president and met several times with Dzhioyeva and her advisers for talks that both sides described as constructive.
But Brovtsev rejected Dzhioyeva's request
to appoint one of her key aides, former Defense Minister Lieutenant General Anatoly Barankevich, as deputy prime minister.
Brovtsev did, however, name another prominent Dzhioyeva supporter
, former Health Minister and presidential candidate Djemal Djigkayev, who backed Dzhioyeva in the runoff, as one of his advisers.
In her January 18 letter to Brovtsev, Dzhioyeva formally set a deadline
of January 23 for him to cede power to her as the legitimately elected president. Addressing supporters in Tskhinvali on January 21, Dzhioyeva branded the March 25 election illegal. (Under the December protocol, she had acknowledged its legality.)
Dzhioyeva also said she would name a date for her inauguration
as president if Brovtsev did not meet her demand to cede power.
The presidential press service responded with a statement
, describing Dzhioyeva's "demarche" as "opportunistic" and "not constructive," while suggesting that it was deliberately intended to destabilize the political situation in the run-up to the March 25 repeat election, and capable of inflicting irreparable damage to South Ossetia's statehood.
Cordial Talks Amid Hard-Line Rhetoric
It claimed the republic's leaders have fulfilled their commitments under the December protocol.
The pro-Kokoity People's Party issued a statement describing Dzhioyeva's demand as unconstitutional. The party called for an emergency session
of parliament to be convened so that it could debate the appropriate response, but no such session has yet been scheduled.
Despite the hard-line rhetoric from both sides, the talks on January 23 appear indeed to have been cordial and constructive.
Dzhioyeva told journalists afterwards that for the first time, she was invited to outline her proposals for resolving the current crisis.
Meanwhile, preparations for the March 25 repeat election have already begun. To date, three potential candidates have informed the Central Election Commission (TsIK) of their intention to participate. (Dzhioyeva has still not given any firm indication as to whether she intends to run again or stay on the sidelines.)
Deputy Defense Minister Igor Alborov, who registered as a candidate
in last November's election, but pulled out at the last minute, and State Committee for the Media head Georgy Kabisov
, who placed sixth with 7.62 percent of the vote, are both Kokoity's men.
The third, deputy parliament speaker Yury Dzitstsoity
, backed Dzhioyeva in December in her standoff with Kokoity, as did a second deputy parliament speaker, Maya Tskhovrebova, whom "Kommersant" has also identified as a possible independent candidate.
Former Russian wrestling team coach Djambolat Tedeyev, who was identified a year ago as Moscow's preferred successor to Kokoity, has likewise announced his intention
to participate in the ballot.
The TsIK voted narrowly last September not to register him
as a candidate for the November election on the grounds that he had not been permanently resident in South Ossetia for the previous 10 years.
Tedeyev claimed that restriction was introduced specifically to disbar him
from the ballot. He then threw his weight behind Dzhioyeva's candidacy.
Assuming that Tedeyev is not again disbarred, and that Dzhioyeva herself does not run again in March, it is conceivable that Moscow might back Tedeyev in preference to either one of Kokoity's associates, or even Bibilov, should the latter choose to stand for election once more.
Tedeyev was quoted in late December by the Russian news agency Regnum as arguing that the people of South Ossetia should support a candidate acceptable to Moscow
in the March election, and that Moscow in turn "should start talking to the people in South Ossetia who are capable of taking decisions and who will not ignore public opinion."
Tedeyev went on to send a clear message to both the Russian leadership and the Kokoity camp: he is for constructive dialogue, and proposes "turning a new page," rather than engaging in lengthy investigations of the corruption and embezzlement of Russian funds that became one of the hallmarks of the Kokoity regime.
All the same, Moscow appears to have made contingency plans to predetermine the outcome of the March repeat election.
On December 23, three senior Russian officials -- Deputy Security Council Secretary Valentin Sobolev, First Deputy Prime Minister Gennady Bukayev, and Russia's ambassador to South Ossetia, Elbrus Kargiyev -- met with the newly revamped South Ossetian Security Council
to discuss how to "prevent destabilization" prior to the March vote.
The South Ossetian Security Council, of which Bibilov is a member, together with Interior Minister Valery Valiyev, presidential administration head Arsen Gagloyev, and acting parliament chairman Zurab Kokoyev, duly tasked
the TsIK with "drafting and implementing measures to preclude violations of the law and possible clashes on polling day."
Whether those contingency plans will be quietly shelved if Dzhioyeva and Brovtsev reach agreement on her inauguration as interim president, and on who should succeed her, is not yet clear.