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No End In Sight To South Ossetia Standoff

Eduard Kokoity says he's not "clinging to power," but wants to cede power to his successor in line with the law and the constitution.
Eduard Kokoity says he's not "clinging to power," but wants to cede power to his successor in line with the law and the constitution.
One week after the Supreme Court in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia annulled the results of the November 27 presidential runoff, there is no end in sight to the standoff between the apparent winner, opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva, and the outgoing regime headed by President Eduard Kokoity.

As talks between the two camps mediated by Russian presidential administration officials entered their sixth day, Dzhioyeva's supporters complained to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that Moscow's representatives "are supporting the illegal actions of the republic's authorities" and do not want to face up to the truth. But Medvedev has made clear that while Russia "is glad to help mediate, it is up to the authorities and the opposition to reach agreement among themselves."

With hundreds of Dzhioyeva's supporters congregated despite sub-zero temperatures outside the government building in Tskhinvali, both sides have upped the ante over the past 24 hours. Dzhioyeva's supporters announced on December 4 that they will stage her inauguration as president on December 10, and appealed to the United Nations and the European Parliament to intervene to avert "a tragedy," stressing that a political crisis in South Ossetia could destabilize the entire Caucasus.

Kokoity responded on December 5 to that appeal by describing the present situation as "an attempt to stage an Orange Revolution," an allusion to the protests in Kyiv in late 2004 following the disputed presidential runoff between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych that culminated in a repeat election that Yushchenko won. Kokoity warned that any such attempt in South Ossetia would fail. He blamed the ongoing crisis on "certain political forces that want to split our society." Kokoity also said he was not "clinging to power," but wanted to cede power to his successor in line with the law and the constitution.

That rhetoric mirrors the tactics espoused by the Kokoity camp for the past week. He is in effect posing as the guarantor of legality and political stability and ignoring successive ultimatums from Dzhioyeva, while at the same time prolonging his term as de facto president for a few more months, during which the opposition can be exiled, bought off, or otherwise sidelined in preparation for a repeat vote on March 25 that Kokoity will ensure his preferred successor wins outright in the first round.

Searching For A Way Forward

Kokoity has showed apparent flexibility by asking the Supreme Court to review its ruling annulling the results of the runoff, and by saying he personally thinks Dzhioyeva should be allowed to participate in the repeat election. The Supreme Court for its part accepted Dzhioyeva's appeal against the annulment, and will rule on it on December 6.

Has opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva lost her momentum?
Has opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva lost her momentum?
The Dzhioyeva camp has been both more intransigent and less consistent, a failing that may reflect their collective comparative inexperience in political maneuvering and could prove her undoing. As indicated above, Dzhioyeva first formally appealed to the Supreme Court the annulment of the second round of voting; then set a deadline of 6 p.m. local time on December 1 for Kokoity to acknowledge her as the legally elected president, a demand he ignored.

Then on December 3, her advisers set a date for her inauguration, and formally demanded the resignation not only of Kokoity, but also of Bichenov and Prosecutor-General Taymuraz Khugayev. If the Supreme Court on December 6 upholds its annulment of the runoff results, Dzhioyeva risks being accused of acting illegally if she does go ahead with the inauguration.

Meanwhile, senior Kremlin official Sergei Vinokurov continues to meet daily with representatives of both Kokoity and Dzhioyeva. Dzhioyeva has apparently not participated personally in those talks as she is reportedly not well. It is not clear whether former Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov, the candidate backed by the Kremlin, is also participating, or whether Moscow has effectively written him off.

No details have been released that would clarify whether Moscow is exerting pressure on one or the other party, but ultimately it does not have to: whoever succeeds Kokoity will be as dependant as he was on Russia, both financially and to defend South Ossetia against a hypothetical new attack by Georgia.

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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