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Power Struggle Under Way In South Ossetia

Has South Ossetia's leadership made Vadim Brovtsev the scapegoat for its failings?
Has South Ossetia's leadership made Vadim Brovtsev the scapegoat for its failings?
Over the past week, Vadim Brovtsev, who was named in August 2009 as prime minister of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, has been subjected to a torrent of criticism by government officials and the local media, which are controlled by de facto President Eduard Kokoity.

Not only have Brovtsev and his cabinet proteges been accused of incompetence and sabotaging the work of the media; he has also been charged with turning a blind eye to, and possibly even profiting from, the embezzlement of funds allocated by the Russian government for reconstruction of homes and government buildings damaged or destroyed during the August 2008 war.

To what extent that criticism is justified, or whether on the contrary Kokoity has chosen to make Brovtsev the scapegoat for criminal financial activity within his own administration, as the Coordinating Council of Social and Political Organizations of South Ossetia suggested two months ago that he would, is not yet clear.

But there is no doubt whatsoever that reconstruction is proceeding at a snail's pace, and that the quality of building work by construction firms based elsewhere in the Russian Federation who managed to win tenders for various projects is often mediocre. In addition, the reconstruction efforts, which are being financed from the Russian federal budget, have been overshadowed from the beginning by repeated allegations of incompetence, red tape, lack of transparency, and massive-scale embezzlement.

The selection of Brovtsev, a 40-year-old businessman from Chelyabinsk, to head the cabinet was apparently intended to expedite the process and make it more transparent. Kokoity described Brovtsev as "a serious professional and builder, tolerant, and a good organizer. He is a man of principles, and he is not a coward."

Brovtsev's appointment did not, however, result in any marked improvement. In late September 2009, a group of homeless Ossetians held a protest in Tskhinvali and subsequently wrote to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to complain about the delays in rebuilding.

In late December, Russian Minister for Regional Development Viktor Basargin, to whom the Russian daily "Kommersant" claims Brovtsev is close, complained about both the pace and the quality of housing construction, and warned that the federal government would in future provide an advance for specific projects, with the balance to be paid only on completion.

In February, and again in late March, Kokoity publicly warned contractors that their contracts would be annulled if they failed to complete work on schedule, or were found to have failed to pay their workers.

In late March, a team from Russia's Audit Chamber arrived in Tskhinvali to assess how effectively the funds allocated from the Russian budget for rebuilding have been spent. Moscow provided 1.5 billion rubles ($50.26 million) in 2008, 8.5 billion rubles ($284.8 million) in 2009, and will allocate a further 5.7 billion ($191 million) this year.

The auditors' findings have not yet been made public. But in a television program aired on April 12, Kosta Kochiyev, who is close to Kokoity, branded Brovtsev and the team he brought with him to Tskhinvali "thieves and marauders," who, according to Kochiyev, are enriching themselves by embezzling federal funds allocated for postconflict reconstruction.

Kochiyev further claimed that all the officials in question were recommended by Deputy Minister for Economic Development Roman Panov, who like Brovtsev comes from Chelyabinsk.

On April 13, Kokoity convened a meeting of top officials, including parliament speaker Stanislav Kochiyev, who lambasted the government for its failure to complete and present to the legislature either the draft budget for 2010, or its report on budget revenues and spending in 2009, or a longer-term program of socioeconomic development. Kokoity ordered the government to submit those documents within 10 days, adding that he hoped those responsible would "draw the appropriate conclusions" from the criticism leveled against them.

Also on April 13, four district administrators deplored the government's failure to address urgent problems in the agricultural sector. An unsigned report posted the same day by the news agency OsInform claimed that Brovtsev's "reforms" have resulted only in "chaos."

That report, and a second datelined the same day, accused Finance Minister Irina Sytnik, whom Brovtsev brought from Chelyabinsk, of sabotaging the work of the State Committee for Information and the Media by refusing to finance the rebuilding of its offices.

More articles in the same vein followed over the next few days, some quoting complaints by individual Ossetian officials, another detailing Brovtsev's allegedly dubious business activities in Chelyabinsk.

At the same time, the cloned "People's Party" created one year ago by Kokoity in the run-up to the May 31 parliamentary elections posted a statement on its website.

That statement noted with concern that "the egregious errors of the government" are being used by the "irreconcilable enemies of South Ossetia's independence" to fuel dissatisfaction with and alienation from the republic's leadership. The statement claims that certain unnamed officials, aware of the total lack of constraints on their activities, make decisions that run counter to the long-term interests of the republic and its population.

The party therefore called for the imposition of stringent controls on the implementation of decisions made by government officials at all levels. It specifically noted the need to ensure that specialists who are not permanent residents of South Ossetia can be called to answer before the law for their activities there after they have left the region.

The final paragraph of the statement criticizes the "low level of professional competence and specialized knowledge" of "many members of Brovtsev's team" and stresses the need to preclude any further violations that would compromise the region's leadership "in the eyes of the Russian Federation and of our voters."

Meanwhile, Brovtsev has hit back, creating a website that has posted the purported findings of a public opinion survey allegedly conducted during the second half of March by the International Center of Political Analysis (MTsPA). Of the total 1,476 respondents, 66.3 percent are said to have assessed Kokoity's track record as president negatively, and only 12.8 percent positively. Brovtsev, by contrast, was perceived positively by 37.8 percent and negatively by 10.9 percent of respondents.

Asked for whom they would vote if presidential elections were held the following Sunday, 15.6 percent of respondents named parliament speaker Kochiyev, 14.2 percent named Brovtsev, 8.7 percent named Kokoity, and 7.5 percent named opposition politician and Moscow-based businessman Albert Dzhussoyev.

Predictably, Kokoity's state adviser Kosta Dzugayev denied immediately that the MTsPA had conducted any such survey in South Ossetia. South Ossetian presidential-administration official Merab Zasseyev rejected the findings as "totally removed from reality."

In a rival online survey on OsInform's website, 57.59 percent of the total 349 respondents express dissatisfaction with Brovtsev's cabinet.

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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