Talks that began last week and continued on January 30 have failed to yield a hoped-for agreement, whereby acting de facto South Ossetian President Vadim Brovtsev would cede power to opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva.
Dzhioyeva had already announced two days earlier that her inauguration as president will take place on February 10.
The People's Party, which is loyal to former President Eduard Kokoity, denounced Dzhioyeva’s statement as a declaration of "civil war" .
Brovtsev, for his part, warned on January 30 that "we shall not allow anyone to sabotage" the repeat presidential ballot scheduled for March 25.
The parliament also warned that responsibility for any possible political destabilization lies squarely with Dzhioyeva.
Warning Of 'Bloodshed'
Even some of Dzhioyeva’s closest supporters have signaled disapproval. Former South Ossetian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Anatoly Barankevich, her election campaign manager, has been quoted as telling media on February 1 that Dzhioyeva’s plans to proceed with her inauguration “could lead to bloodshed.”
The standoff between Dzhioyeva and the breakaway republic's previous leadership dates back to November, when Dzhioyeva was initially declared the winner of a runoff ballot to elect a successor to outgoing President Kokoity, who was barred by the republic's constitution from serving a third presidential term.
The Supreme Court, however, intervened to annul the results, citing unspecified violations by Dzhioyeva's supporters.
After popular protests on Dzhioyeva's behalf, which lasted almost two weeks, a senior Kremlin official dispatched to Tskhinvali succeeded in mediating an agreement whereby Dzhioyeva acknowledged publicly the legality of the parliament'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, and to fire three senior officials whom the opposition perceived as having either persecuted dissenters and human rights activists, or connived in the annulment of the election results.
The officials in question are Prosecutor-General Taymuraz Khugayev (whose sister is married to Kokoity's brother); Khugayev's deputy, Eldar Kokoyev; and Supreme Court Chairman Atsamaz Bichenov.
Brovtsev as prime minister automatically became acting president until the inauguration of whichever candidate wins the March 25 repeat election.
'Unilateral' Decisions, Ultimatums
The pro-Kokoity parliament, however, failed to endorse the firings, a failure Dzhioyeva subsequently viewed as a violation of her agreement with Kokoity.
On January 18, Dzhioyeva said she had revoked her signature on the December 10 agreement because Kokoity had failed to honor it.
Dzhioyeva also formally asked Brovtsev to cede the presidential powers to her. She warned that failure to do so would be construed as a bid to retain power illegally.
Both Dzhioyeva and Brovtsev had described their talks on January 23 as "constructive."
But on January 30, Brovtsev said further talks "are pointless if one side takes unilateral decisions" and issues ultimatums.
He said Dzhioyeva’s demand that he cede the presidency to her was itself a violation of the December 10 agreement, which stipulated he should serve as acting president until the March 25 repeat election.
Dzhioyeva has not yet commented on the apparent deadlock.
Meanwhile, the number of would-be candidates in the March 25 election has risen to nine, at least five of whom can tentatively be identified as aligned with the existing authorities.
This suggests that Kokoity, who many believe is still pulling strings behind the scenes, has opted for the same scenario as in the November election: to split the vote between the largest possible number of candidates in order to ensure that no candidate wins in the first round, and any two acceptable candidates reach the runoff.
When RFE/RL’s Echo of the Caucasus conducted a straw poll of residents in Tskhinvali this week, only one respondent out of six knew how many candidates have so far thrown their hats into the ring, and most considered the number of hopefuls excessive, especially compared with the five candidates in the Russian presidential ballot on March 4.