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Is South Ossetia Heading For New Political Crisis?

Georgian breakaway region South Ossetia's de facto president, Leonid Tibilov, speaks at a "Forever with Russia," a public meeting to mark the fourth anniversary of Russia's recognition of South Ossetia's independence, in Tskhinvali, in August 2012.

Georgian breakaway region South Ossetia's de facto president, Leonid Tibilov, speaks at a "Forever with Russia," a public meeting to mark the fourth anniversary of Russia's recognition of South Ossetia's independence, in Tskhinvali, in August 2012.

Leonid Tibilov, de facto president of Georgia’s breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, dismissed the region’s government on January 20 for its failure to galvanize the region’s economy and repair infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the August 2008 war with Georgia. Whether a new government will prove capable of bringing about a substantive improvement before the parliamentary elections due in May is questionable, however.

Meanwhile, Tibilov has named as acting Prime Minister Domenti Kulumbegov, who served as deputy prime minister from 2009-12 under Tibilov’s predecessor, Eduard Kokoity. Kulumbegov was appointed in June 2012 as an aide to Republic of North Ossetia-Alania President Taymuraz Mamsurov in the latter’s capacity as Russian presidential representative for South Ossetia. He was named South Ossetian first deputy prime minister in June 2013.

Following his inauguration as de facto president in late April 2012, Tibilov had named businessman Rostislav Khugayev to head a cabinet of national reconciliation that included rival presidential candidates Alla Dzhioyeva as deputy prime minister and Anatoly Bibilov as minister for emergency situations. Some of those ministers, Khugayev said, were experienced bureaucrats, while the younger ones compensated by their energy and openness to new ways of doing things for their lack of experience.

At that time, Tibilov said he wanted at absolute minimum for the population to see tangible progress within six months in implementing his election promises to expedite reconstruction, especially of housing.

But that goal proved unrealistic. The cabinet ministers proved unable or unwilling -- or both -- to work as a team. (Some, including Bibilov and Dzhioyeva, may have focused their energy primarily on setting up their own political parties.) And the Kremlin was reportedly so unimpressed by Khugayev himself that the possibility of replacing him was raised in early 2013, but no suitable alternative could be found. An attempt in October by the People’s Party, which holds nine seats in the 34-seat parliament, to force a no-confidence vote in the government failed to win the support of the other two parliament factions.

Commenting on Tibilov’s dismissal of the government, State Committee for Information and the Press Chairman Vyacheslav Gobozov noted that most of the criticisms of the cabinet contained in Tibilov’s April 2013 annual address to parliament remain valid.

Moscow’s new point man for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Vladislav Surkov, similarly warned the cabinet when visiting Tskhinvali two months ago that any talk of South Ossetia acceding to the CIS Customs Union (which Tbililov had designated a priority) was premature until the authorities got around to laying phone lines and asphalting the streets.

True, the problems facing the new cabinet in 2012 were Herculean, and compounded by the inefficiency of the previous leadership, which was found to have embezzled much of the money made available by Russia for postconflict reconstruction and used what was left to finance building work of such poor quality that it already requires re-doing. No fewer than 78 criminal cases have been opened in connection with the misappropriation of those funds.

With the official unemployment figure at 15 percent, and not a single functioning industrial enterprise, the predominantly agricultural region with a population of just 70,000 still has to import virtually all its food.

Most members of the intelligentsia and the younger generation have left for Russia. Those who remain are reportedly alienated and bitter but apathetic. In June, leaflets were circulated in Tskhinvali calling on the population to take to the streets to demand the resignation of the government, but no one responded to that appeal.

The constitution does not set a deadline for Tibilov to name a new cabinet. Gobozov, who is also chairman of the nonparliamentary Fydybasta party, said Tibilov will do so "within a reasonable time." Even so, the timing of Tibilov’s dismissal of the government may play into the hands of the dozen opposition parties qualified to participate in the upcoming parliamentary ballot in their competition to win the votes of an electorate totally disenchanted with the present leadership.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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