Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has appointed special representatives for Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russia formally recognized both territories as independent states immediately after the August 2008 war triggered by Georgia’s bid to win back control over South Ossetia by force of arms.
Both Medvedev’s appointees are currently heads of Russian Federation subjects that border on the disputed regions in question, and they will continue to hold those positions concurrently.
Their new duties have not been spelled out, but are likely to be tailored to accommodate the very real political and economic differences between the two republics.
An Unsinkable Governor
The presidential representative for Abkhazia is Aleksandr Tkachev, who was confirmed last week for a fourth consecutive term
as governor of Krasnodar Krai.
Russian analyst Andrei Yepifantsev has characterized Tkachev
as "one of the most unsinkable Russian governors."
In addition to business interests held by Tkachev and members of his family, Yepifantsev recalled a major scandal involving the Krasnodar governor's alleged violations of environmental legislation during the construction of a luxurious villa on the Black Sea coast.
On the plus side, Yepifantsev stressed Tkachev’s proven success as an economic manager.
Moscow-based analyst Modest Kolerov
suggests that Tkachev’s appointment may be intended, at least in part, to counterbalance what he calls the "ineffective and politically toothless" Russian ambassador to Abkhazia, Semyon Grigoriev.
Nonetheless, Tkachev’s primary focus is likely to be the systematic implementation of the cooperation agreement
he signed in May 2008 with the then de facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh.
Among other things, this agreement covers construction materials that Abkhazia is meant to provide for infrastructure projects connected with the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Commenting on his new appointment, Tkachev pledged to do all in his power "to bring our countries closer together."
He also raised the possibility of creating “a single economic space,”
presumably comprising Krasnodar Krai and Abkhazia.
Medvedev’s representative for South Ossetia is Taymuraz Mamsurov
, who has headed the Republic of North Ossetia – Alania since late 2004.
His appointment is more controversial than that of Tkachev insofar as he has repeatedly advocated the unification of North and South Ossetia.
For example, in March 2008, when he met with the de facto president of the then still unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, Mamsurov called the division of the Ossetian people
"absurd" and said it “cannot last forever.”
Three months later, Mamsurov said he would appeal to foreign ambassadors
to further the unification of North and South Ossetia.
Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin suggested last summer that South Ossetia could become part of the Russian Federation if this was what the republic’s population wanted.
However, President Medvedev immediately countered that there are no legal or actual preconditions
for South Ossetia to unite with North Ossetia as a subject of the Russian Federation.
The leaders of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have publicly expressed approval of the new appointments.
De facto Abkhaz President Aleksandr Ankvab said Tkachev’s appointment was "good news,"
adding that Tkachev is well-thought of in Abkhazia, and that he has personally has long enjoyed a good working relationship with him
Likewise, Vadim Brovtsev, the Russian businessman from Siberia who is South Ossetia’s current acting president, praised the choice
of Mamsurov, noting that he "understands the situation in South Ossetia better than any other Russian political figure."