The confrontation in Georgia’s breakaway Republic of South Ossetia triggered by the majority Yedinaya Osetia (One Ossetia) party’s campaign to force the resignation of de facto Foreign Minister David Sanakoyev is over.
On April 22, two days after One Ossetia withdrew the no-confidence vote on Sanakoyev from the legislature’s agenda, de facto President Leonid Tibilov dismissed Sanakoyev, but at the same time appointed him a state adviser.
That move is unlikely, however, to put an end either to the open antagonism between One Ossetia, which controls 20 of the 34 parliament mandates, and the three minority parties, or to One Ossetia's constant criticism of the executive branch. One Russian observer has predicted that that party will now seek to undermine other senior officials whom it wishes to see replaced by one of its own nominees, such as the Supreme Court chairman or the minister for information and the press.
Most observers attribute One Ossetia's dislike of Sanakoyev, who lost the presidential runoff ballot to Tibilov in March 2012, to the fact that he made public in mid-January an amended version of the new draft framework Treaty on Union Relations and Strategic Partnership between South Ossetia and the Russian Federation, which formally recognized the region as an independent sovereign state in August 2008.
One Ossetia's chairman, parliament speaker Anatoly Bibilov, who had called in January 2014 for a referendum on South Ossetia’s incorporation into the Russian Federation to be held concurrently with the parliamentary elections in June of that year, favored the initial draft of that treaty, which envisaged a far closer degree of "integration" with Russia than Tibilov and other political parties were apparently prepared to condone. Specifically, it provided for the subsuming of South Ossetian defense and security organs into their Russian counterparts and empowered Moscow to take decisions regarding the region’s security.
Bibilov blamed Sanakoyev for One Ossetia's failure to have the revised draft amended to its liking, and duly called for a vote of no confidence in him for his imputed failings as foreign minister. That vote was passed on March 13, with 19 of the One Ossetia's 20 parliament deputies voting in favor, but Tibilov declined to dismiss Sanakoyev.
One Ossetia then scheduled a second no-confidence vote, but it failed to take place on April 15 as planned because legislators from the three minority factions failed to appear for the planned session. Bibilov attributed that move to pressure by unnamed members of the executive branch. But the heads of the three parties in question denied this, explaining that they saw no grounds for a no-confidence vote in Sanakoyev and resented what they termed the chronic failure of the majority ever to take their views into consideration.
Tibilov summoned separately first Bibilov, whom he warned that the parliament should not seek to meddle in the work of the government, and then the leaders of the other three parliamentary parties. He sought to impress on all of them the need to "try to reach a compromise” and to adopt “a constructive approach" to resolving the problems the region faces.
Tibilov further deplored the fact that most legislative initiatives originate with the executive branch, rather than lawmakers, a criticism that Bibilov rejected as misplaced. Bibilov told journalists on April 17 that One Ossetia planned to call for a second no-confidence vote in Sanakoyev at the session scheduled for April 20.
In the event, however, not only did that session not take place; One Ossetia issued a terse statement on April 20 saying that following talks between Tibilov and Bibilov, and "in the interests of preserving political stability," the party has withdrawn "for the moment" from the legislature's agenda the question of a repeat no-confidence vote in Sanakoyev. That vote would have required a quorum of 22 deputies, and a simple majority to pass, in which case Tibilov would have had no choice but to dismiss Sanakoyev in line with the Republic of South Ossetia Constitution.
The reasons for One Ossetia's volte face are unclear. Judging by published summaries, Bibilov certainly came off worse in a live televised debate on April 17 during which the chairmen of the other three parties repeated their accusations that their opinion is routinely ignored, and former parliament speaker Stanislav Kochiyev affirmed publicly that the no-confidence vote was merely "a pretext."
It is, however, equally possible that Bibilov was subjected to behind-the-scenes pressure. As for Sanakoyev's dismissal, analysts asked by the website Caucasian Knot to comment said unanimously that Bibilov cannot claim the credit for it, and it will not enhance his chances in the presidential election due in 2017.
Yevgeny Krutikov, who writes for Vzglyad, suggested Tibilov may have come to view Sanakoyev as a liability, not because of One Ossetia's criticism, but as a result of an automobile accident last week in what Krutikov termed "strange and compromising circumstances." Sanakoyev reportedly escaped with cuts and bruises after the government Lexus he was driving overturned.
-- Liz Fuller