Caucasus: South Ossetia power struggle simmers on

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Aug 5 15:47:02 UTC 2007

    Sunday, August 5, 2007       EURASIA INSIGHT

*Paul Rimple 7/31/07
A EurasiaNet Photo Story
Photos by Sophia Mizante *

It was a power duel that began less than a year ago but, already the
stand-off between Eduard Kokoity, de facto president of
separatist-controlled South Ossetia, and Dmitri Sanakoyev, de facto
president of Georgian-controlled South Ossetia shows signs of settling down
for the long haul.

As often in the conflict-ridden topic of conflict resolution in South
Ossetia, much of the jousting comes in the form of commissions. Tbilisi held
its first state commission to define South Ossetia's status on July 24.
Chaired by Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, the commission includes
ruling National Movement Party lawmakers, an opposition party member, civil
society advocates, the region's pro-Tbilisi "provisional administration"
head Dmitri Sanakoyev and representatives of the Ossetian community in
Georgia. The commission's formation came on the heels of a July 22 meeting
of more than 100 members of Georgia's Ossetian community at an assembly in
Tamarasheni, just one kilometer from Tskhinvali, the capital of separatist
South Ossetia.

Touted as "all-inclusive," the commission has one key player missing: South
Ossetia's Moscow-backed separatist leader Eduard Kokoity. Georgian officials
say that they would welcome the involvement of Kokoity's envoys. A campaign
recently launched by the Sanakoyev administration – "Kokoity Fanderast" or
"Kokoity Farewell" in Ossetian – puts in question how welcome that
involvement would actually be, however.

Details of the plan, announced on July 23 by Sankoyev administration
spokesperson Vladimir Sanakoyev (no relation to Dmitri Sanakoyev), have not
been forthcoming, but a recent rush of building activity in Kurta, seat of
the Sanakoyev administration, suggests that the campaign's message is
intended by way of contrast with conditions in Tskhinvali.

Throughout Georgian-controlled areas of South Ossetia, roads are being
resurfaced, a cinema, discotheque, electronics store, 25-bed hospital,
secondary school, sports center, two gas stations, a second bank, children's
amusement park, swimming pool and other facilities including new gas and
water lines have been completed or are reportedly under construction.
Financing for the construction boom is not entirely clear; Sanakoyev himself
states that his administration relies on a 23 million lari ($13.8 million)
budget from Tbilisi.

But, roughly four kilometers away in Tskhinvali, separatist leader Kokoity
says that he has no intention of saying farewell.

Kokoity claims that Tbilisi is pursuing a policy of disinformation aimed at
destabilizing the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone. He points
to Sanakoyev's recent inclusion in meetings with representatives of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Parliament. [For
background see the Eurasia Insight

"[A]llowing Sanakoyev to speak at an EU meeting [in Brussels] confuses the
international community about who, in fact, is the legitimate representative
of South Ossetia and the person fulfilling the nation's will," Kokoity
stated in an interview with Eurasianet.

The South Ossetian leader dismissed the invitation to take part in the state
commission on defining the breakaway region's status, arguing that the
territory's status was already decided in a November 2006 referendum on
independence. [For background see the Eurasia Insight

"We wished dialogue was being conducted between legally elected
representatives," said Kokoity. "It's proof that [Georgian President
Mikheil] Saakashvili is panicky and afraid of dialogue with representatives
of the South Ossetian nation, according to law."

No sign exists, though, that Tskhinvali is planning a response to the
"Kokoity Goodbye" campaign.
Kokoity dismisses such activity as "not concerning us" and claims it is
further proof that Sanakoyev, a former prime minister and defense minister
for the separatist government in Tskhinvali, is a puppet of the Saakashvili
administration. "We firmly believe in our strength as a nation and not in
the words of mentally ill people," the de-facto president stated in
reference to Sanakoyev spokesperson Vladimir Sanakoyev.

As for matching what Kurta has to offer, Kokoity asserts that the average
monthly salary in the separatist-controlled zone is up from 80 to 120 rubles
(about $3.13 to $4.70) when Sanakoyev was prime minister from July-December
2001, to 2,220 rubles (about $86.14). Availability of electricity has also
increased to "much more than three hours per day," he claimed.

Exchanges between Sanakoyev, who left South Ossetia once Kokoity came to
power in 2001, and the separatist South Ossetian leader are often akin to
schoolyard brawls. Both sides claim the other is a traitor. Both sides
question each other's mental health. Both sides charged the other for a
recent water crisis. Sanakoyev is portrayed as a compulsive gambler; Kokoity
as a corrupt mafioso.

The gunfire that residents say could be heard nightly until two weeks ago
between Georgian and pro-Tskhinvali Ossetian forces in the area only
underlines that acrimony.

Dmitri Sanakoyev, for his part, maintains that everything being done in
Tbilisi and the Georgian- controlled territories testifies that he, his
supporters and the Georgian government are committed to solving the problem
of South Ossetia peacefully and transparently.

"Kokoity can't reach that aim," asserted Sanakoyev during an interview in
his office in Kurta. "By connecting his politics to Russia he can't work out
such a progressive plan. He has not united the people of South Ossetia. His
politics are based on threats, blockades and extremism. All he can
accomplish is war, nothing more."

"We promised in the elections that South Ossetia will remain a republic and
our aim is to be recognized within Georgia by the international community
and to show them that we are a multi-ethnic society," Sanakoyev asserted.
The pro-Tbilisi leader says his goal is to unite . . . South Ossetia and
hold presidential elections. "I'll accept whomever they elect. It doesn't
have to be me," Sanakoyev assured this reporter.

Meanwhile, amidst the ongoing animosity between Kurta and Tskhinvali,
however, members of the international community are choosing their words

At a July 27 press conference in Tbilisi, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State Mathew Bryza, praised the Georgian government's efforts to stick to
its three-stage peace plan for South Ossetia, although he did not address
the lack of progress on demilitarization, which was the first stage of the
plan envisaged by Georgian President Saakashvili in 2004. [For background
see the Eurasia Insight
Instead, Bryza focused on the success of economic and confidence-building
measures and stated that Tbilisi was ready for the third stage of the plan,
which is resolution of the conflict.

On July 26 in Tbilisi, Jose Borrell Fontelles, the Special Envoy of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman-in-Office, told
reporters that the OSCE is encouraged by both sides' commitment to a
peaceful resolution of the 17-year-long conflict. Joint decisions on
demilitarization of the conflict zone and policing are still needed, he

*Editor's Note*: Paul Rimple is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi.
Sophia Mizante is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.

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