Georgia Devises New Plan for South Ossetia

Georgia Devises New Plan for South Ossetia

[12:54 pm] 21 April, 2007

The rebel administration dismisses the latest Georgian initiative
as an attempt to sow division and seek recognition for a pro-Tbilisi
faction in the region.

A new Georgian initiative on South Ossetia has been met with deep
suspicion in the unrecognised republic, where it has been dismissed
as a ploy to promote a rival pro-Tbilisi entity. In Georgia, the plan
has been seen as a credible transitional arrangement that could help
end the long-running territorial dispute.

President Mikheil Saakashvili has proposed that South Ossetia should
be run by a new, interim administration pending an end to the present

The 1991-92 conflict left South Ossetia a self-declared independent
republic, a state of affairs that Georgia does not accept. Tbilisi
believes a negotiated settlement should keep the region within the
Georgian state, albeit with a degree of devolution.

Under the new plan, President Saakashvili would pick the people to
run the interim entity and define the rules by which the entity
operates. The question of the entity’s final status would not be
addressed at this transitional stage, although it is clear Tbilisi
envisages that it will ultimately regain control of the wayward

The three-page bill describes its aims as "promoting a peaceful
resolution of the conflict, restoring constitutional order on the
former South Ossetian autonomous territory, protecting the rights,
freedoms and interests of people and ethnic groups living on that
territory, determining the [final] status of the former South
Ossetian autonomous entity, and creating the appropriate conditions
for democratic elections."

The bill has now been submitted to the Georgian parliament, and from
what legislators have said so far, the signs are that it will be
approved. Only then will it become apparent when and how the proposed
administration is to take shape, but government sources say that
should happen soon.

Tbilisi has hinted that it is open to negotiations with South Ossetia’s
current leaders if they are interested in the plan. The speaker of
Georgian parliament Nino Burjanadze said the authorities were prepared
to "talk to anyone – including de facto president Eduard Kokoity –
who claims to represent the interests of South Ossetia’s people".

Most of all, though, Tbilisi’s plan looks like a way of raising the
status of the "alternative" – and friendly – government of South
Ossetia. Dismissed by the South Ossetian rebel authorities as a
"puppet administration", the "alternative government" sits in the
ethnic Georgian village Kurta.

Its leader Dmitry Sanakoyev, who set up the "alternative government"
last autumn, has been described by Saakashvili as "a hero who does
everything he can to bring about reconciliation between the Georgian
and Ossetian peoples". But the Georgian authorities have studiously
avoided ascribing the role of political leader to Sanakoyev, referring
to him merely as the head of a public organisation.

Significantly, perhaps, the bill says that either political leaders
or representatives of public organisations will be selected to run
the proposed administration.

Sanakoyev, meanwhile, has taken up the plan for an interim
administration with enthusiasm.

"I think it’s a good move for furthering the negotiating process," he
said. "I welcome the initiative and declare that we are ready to assume
the responsibility for further resolution of the Georgian-Ossetian

Some analysts believe that by installing a pliable interim
administration, Tbilisi would be better placed to undermine the
Tskhinval government’s claim to act for everyone in South Ossetia, and
therefore to reduce the international impact of demands for the region
to be recognised as an independent state, or even annexed to Russia.

In Tskhinval, the de facto South Ossetian authorities suggested
Saakashvili had "lost his grip on reality".

Their foreign ministry issued a statement saying that "the authorities
in South Ossetia are determined not to allow the creation or
operation… of any ‘temporary’, ‘alternative’ or other governing
structures whose activities would lead to the further exacerbation
of Georgian-Ossetian relations".

South Ossetian first deputy prime minister Boris Chochiev told IWPR
that that the Georgian plan was designed to win greater recognition
for Sanakoyev’s pro-Georgian group, and then provoke the rival
administrations into "a civil war in which Ossetians will be pitted
against each other".

"All this is aimed at undermining the [formal] talks, and getting the
authorities in the Kurta collective farm recognised as the voice of
the Ossetian people.

What Saakashvili forgets is that Sanakoyev represents neither the
interests of the Ossetian people, nor those of the Georgian people,"
said Chochiev.

Nor does the Georgian plan sit well with Moscow, which has good
relations with the South Ossetian rebels. In a statement issued on
March 29, the Russian foreign ministry urged Tbilisi "to abandon its
plans to accord legitimacy to the alternative government of South
Ossetia and adopt a constructive position on taking the negotiating
process forward".

"The foreign ministry has been watching with concern the growing
propaganda emanating from Tbilisi in relation to the so-called movement
of Dmitry Sanakoyev. The aim is clear – to make untutored observers
inside and outside the country come to believe in the respectability
of what is in fact a network of agents set up by the Georgian secret

The Georgian authorities responded by saying that Moscow’s angry
reaction only proved they had chosen the right course.

The United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and
Eurasian affairs, Matthew Bryza, appeared upbeat about the Georgian

"As I understand it… the goal is to build contacts between South
Ossetians and other citizens of Georgia to the point that tensions
reduce, people feel that they’re all together in one common political
family, and then it’s possible to define and establish autonomy,"
he told a press conference in Tbilisi.

In Georgia, politicians and analysts have given the South Ossetia plan
a mixed response. Most political parties, including opposition ones,
have given the bill their backing, but some fear it is merely a PR
exercise by the authorities.

"If it’s possible to create an administrative entity where Ossetians
and Georgians can show the world that they can live together, run an
administration and maintain cultural ties, of course we will support
such an initiative," said Zviad Dzidziguri, leader of the opposition
Conservative Party.

Political analyst Paata Zakareishvili believes the Georgian authorities
are trying to find a way out of the situation they put themselves in
by creating the "alternative government" of South Ossetia, instead
of making real progress on resolving the conflict.

"It was wrong to rely on Dmitry Sanakoyev, who had neither public
support nor other leverage. Now the authorities are trying to give
him some status," said Zakareishvili. "It seems they [the Georgian
authorities] are unable to undertake real projects and confine
themselves to PR exercises."

Zaakareishvili said it would be difficult to persuade the international
community to recognise Sanakoyev as a party to negotiations.

Another analyst, Ramaz Sakvarelidze, said the key to the new initiative
would be persuading Russia to recognise Sanakoyev’s role – but he
added this would not happen in the near future.

Archil Gegeshidze of the Georgian International Relations and Strategic
Research Fund said the president’s initiative was interesting, but
would achieve nothing unless the international community gave it the
green light to it and the Georgian authorities regained the trust of
the Ossetian population.

South Ossetia has recently seen an upsurge in tensions following
a series of armed clashes, the most recent of which, on March 25,
left two Georgian policemen dead. Each side accuses the other of
provoking these incidents.

In South Ossetia, local people had heard of the Georgian initiative
but were largely sceptical.

Svetlana, a 47-year-old teacher in Tskhinvali, said she did not
believe that Tbilisi’s intentions were peaceful.

"I’m sure that all the recent initiatives from the Georgian government
have been undertaken not because they want to make it up with us,
but because they want to achieve their own ends," she said.

Tskhinval resident Alexander, 33, said, "A civil war [between
South Ossetian factions] would play into the hands of the Georgian
authorities, since if that happened they would have a real opportunity
to bring in their troops and launch hostilities."

He gave his own explanation for Georgia’s haste to come up with new
initiatives, saying, "Georgia wants to become a NATO member as soon
as possible, but before that it must resolve its territorial disputes.

That’s why they have been devising all these plans."

A 56-year-old pensioner in South Ossetia who withheld his name
expressed guarded optimism that a new interim administration might
"bring order to the region at last".

"We’re all tired of the uncertainty and chaos around us," he said. "I
think it will lead to changes for the better. Russia will never
recognise us, and living in a state of suspense is difficult."

By Giorgi Kupatadze in Tbilisi and Irina Kelekhsayeva in Tskhinval
Giorgi Kupatadze works for the News Georgia news agency in
Tbilisi. Irina Kelekhsayeva is a freelance journalist in Tskhinval.

Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s Caucasus Reporting Service