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South Ossetian Compromise Agreement Could Unravel


Outgoing South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity in Tskhinvali on December 5

Outgoing South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity in Tskhinvali on December 5

The agreement reached late on December 9 that was intended to end the two-week standoff between the outgoing president and the opposition in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia is already fraying. If it falls apart, outgoing de facto President Eduard Kokoity might still succeed in neutralizing the opposition and outmaneuvering Moscow to secure either his return to power or the election of his hand-picked successor.

The standoff resulted from the November 28 decisions by the South Ossetian Supreme Court to annul the outcome of the presidential election runoff the previous day in which preliminary returns gave opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva a clear win over Moscow's candidate, Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, and to bar Dzhioyeva from participating in the repeat ballot on the grounds of alleged irregularities committed by her supporters during the November 27 vote. Hundreds of Dzhioyeva's supporters congregated on Tskhinvali's main square to protest that ruling and refused for days to disperse despite sub-zero temperatures.

After 10 days of negotiations mediated by senior Kremlin official Sergei Vinokurov, the two camps reached a compromise late on December 9. Dzhioyeva agreed to acknowledge publicly in a televised address the legality of the Supreme Court's ruling to schedule new elections, thereby implicitly retracting her insistence that she was legally elected president on November 27 in a free and fair ballot. She also undertook to tell her supporters to disperse and return home.

Kokoity, for his part, agreed to step down, his term in office having officially expired on December 7. In line with the republic's constitution, the presidential powers devolve on to Prime Minister Vadim Brovtsev. An ethnic Russian, Brovtsev was foisted on Kokoity by the Kremlin two years ago to try to stem the systematic embezzlement by Kokoity's entourage of funds provided by Moscow for reconstruction of infrastructure damaged or destroyed during the August 2008 war with Georgia.

Kokoity also agreed to fire three senior officials whom the opposition perceived as having either persecuted opposition and human rights activists or connived in the annulment of the election results. They are Prosecutor-General Taymuraz Khugayev (whose sister is married to Kokoity's brother); Khugayev's deputy, Eldar Kokoyev; and Supreme Court Chairman Atsamaz Bichenov.

Both sides duly complied with those obligations. But prior to the December 10 ceremony during which he announced he was stepping down, Kokoity signed a decree appointing Kokoyev and Military Prosecutor's Office staffer Grigory Sobayev to serve as Constitutional Court judges. Kokoity also appointed as first deputy prime minister with responsibility for the police and security forces Merab Pukhayev, hitherto commander of the Interior Ministry special forces (OMON).

Those appointments outraged and stymied Dzhioyeva's supporters, several hundred of whom refused to comply with her request to disperse. Dzhioyeva accused Kokoity of acting in bad faith and said on December 10 she might revoke her signature on the agreement signed the previous day. She also said she would ask Brovtsev to annul the appointments Kokoity made, admitting at the same time she was not sure whether he is legally empowered to do so.

Kokoity retaliated on December 11 with an official statement stressing he had kept his part of the bargain while Dzhioyeva's supporters were continuing a protest for which they did not have official permission. His statement construed Dzhioyeva's threat to revoke her signature from the agreement as evidence that she is not an independent political actor but a pawn in the hands of "outside forces."

That, however, is the last of Dzhioyeva's worries. A careful reading of the agreement that she signed reveals three built-in provisos that Kokoity could use against her. First, it guarantees her the right "under existing legislation" to participate in the March 25 repeat ballot. But the parliament could amend the law to preclude her registration as a candidate, and Kokoity's newly minted Constitutional Court would rubber-stamp that amendment.

Second, the agreement guarantees Dzhioyeva and her supporters "immunity from prosecution for their political views" (which in any event is guaranteed by the constitution), leaving open the hypothetical possibility she/they could be charged with a criminal offense, which would similarly render her ineligible to run in the repeat ballot.

And third, the republic's parliament, the majority of whose deputies remain loyal to Kokoity, is required to endorse the dismissals of Khugayev and Bichenov, which Russian analyst Aleksandr Skokov suggests it may decline to do. In a clear attempt to purge the legislature of rebels, Kokoity on December 11 "suggested" to deputy parliament speakers Yury Dzitstsoity and Mira Tskhovrebova that they should resign. Both had called on Kokoity last week to honor the will of the people, who had elected Dzhioyeva president, and step down. Dzitstsoity told "Kommersant" he would not do so, but predicted that Kokoity might convene an emergency congress of the Unity party of which he is chairman and expel both himself and Tskhovrebova from the party as part of a wave of reprisals.

An even more serious threat to Dzhioyeva is that the parliament might vote to amend the constitution to remove Section 3 of Article 48, which bars anyone from serving more than two consecutive terms as president, and the Constitutional Court will uphold that amendment.

Finally, it is uncertain whether Brovtsev, whom Dzitstsoity characterized as "soft," will prove capable of controlling the "power" agencies still loyal to Kokoity. If he fails, Moscow will have virtually no chance of ensuring the election as Kokoity's successor of a candidate who will implement and defend its interests.

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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