Georgia Promotes its Man in South Ossetia

“Alternative” South Ossetian leader addresses parliamentarians in Brussels.

Georgia Promotes its Man in South Ossetia

“Alternative” South Ossetian leader addresses parliamentarians in Brussels.

Europe always remained a faraway dream for us, especially during the years of grave armed confrontation,” Dmitry Sanakoyev told a meeting at the European Parliament last week. “Georgia is returning to Europe, which has always been its natural milieu. Together with Georgia, my homeland South Ossetia should return to Europe, too.”

This speech by Sanakoyev, the man the Georgian government has designated the head of “the provisional administration in South Ossetia”, was the latest step in a campaign to gain legitimacy for the newest player in a dispute over the breakaway republic that dates back to 1990.

Sanakoyev is a former defence minister and prime minister in South Ossetia’s unrecognised administration, but is now a firm ally of the Georgian government, which wants to restore control over the territory.

After winning an “alternative” presidential election in South Ossetia, Sanakoyev set himself up in opposition to Eduard Kokoity, the leader of the breakaway region. He is based in Kurta, an ethnic Georgian village a few kilometres down the road from the capital Tskhinvali.

On June 26, Sanakoyev attended a meeting of the Georgia-Europe Parliamentary Cooperation Committee in Brussels, at the invitation of committee chairs Marie-Anne Isler-Beguin, a Euro MP, and David Bakradze, head of the Georgian parliament’s committee for European integration. Sanakoyev addressed the parliamentarians in the Ossetian language for 15 minutes.

Sanakoyev says he sees the Ossetians’ future as part of a united, democratic and stable Georgia in which minority rights are protected.

“There’s only one solution – to ensure a direct dialogue between the Georgian and Ossetian peoples, to neutralise external and internal destructive forces and replace them with the international democratic community’s healthy and effective support,” Sanakoyev said in Brussels.

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili appointed Sanakoyev as head of the “interim administration” in May, and is now urging the international community to recognise the new position.

Saakashvili recently predicted that the South Ossetia dispute was heading for resolution, with Sanakoyev the key to a peaceful outcome.

“Kokoity’s presidency is drawing to a close, and we will solve all the problems once and for all within a few months, showing to the world the way interethnic conflicts should be handled,” he told journalists in Baku on June 19, after a summit of the Democracy and Economic Development Organisation of GUAM, a grouping of regional states including Georgia.

Saakashvili said there were no problems between the Ossetian and Georgian peoples, and that the obstacles that existed were “created by criminal structures”.

The de facto authorities in Tskhinvali rejected this out of hand, sticking to their line that South Ossetia seceded from Georgia in the early Nineties and now wants fully recognised independence. They call Sanakoyev a “puppet” who has no public backing.

The de facto foreign ministry of South Ossetia said Sanakoyev’s visit to Brussels was part of a “propaganda operation founded on the illusions of the Georgian leadership that the Georgian-Ossetian conflict can be resolved by its puppets, excluding the Republic of South Ossetia… and ignoring the will of its citizens”.

The Russian foreign ministry also released a statement which ruled out contact with Sanakoyev. “In Moscow, people understand where the power really lies in South Ossetia, and whom the overwhelming majority of the population really supports,” it said.

Tensions have been running high in the conflict zone in the last month. On June 27, Russian peacekeepers blocked a Georgian operation to build a road between the villages of Nikozi and Avnevi, avoiding several Ossetian villages. The troops placed several armoured vehicles across the road to stop construction machinery driving past.

On the same day, residents of the Georgian village of Nikozi blocked the main highway, demanding the restoration of their drinking water supplies. The South Ossetian authorities in Tskhinvali had shut off water supplies to the area after saying their own water supplies were blocked by Tbilisi.

The water dispute has continued with recriminations and accusations - and the occasional agreement – for several weeks.

Georgian experts are generally positive about the Sanakoyev phenomenon, although they do not expect him to get international recognition any time soon.

“Sanakoyev’s visit to Brussels is the right move,” said political analyst Paata Zakareishvili, a member of the opposition Republican Party. “One point to be noted is that this visit is not any initiative by western organisations. He just took part in the Georgia-EU dialogue in the capacity of a member of the Georgian delegation.”

Archil Gegeshidze of the Strategic and International Studies Foundation told IWPR that the final goal must be the peaceful reintegration of South Ossetia into Georgia.

In order to achieve this, he said, the Georgian authorities should take three factors into account. First of all, efforts must be made to secure local legitimacy for Sanakoyev by ensuring that his administration has broad public support in South Ossetia. “The support Sanakoyev currently enjoys is mainly among the region’s Georgian population,” he said. “It is essential that his administration is recognised by the entire population. That is a long process, which I hope will conclude successfully.”

Gegeshidze said the Georgians needed to work hard to secure success for their strategy with many different partners. “The Georgian authorities need a serious, well-coordinated strategy of actions both within the region and in the diplomatic arena,” said Gegeshidze.

Magdalena Frichova, Caucasus project director with the International Crisis Group, which recently produced a report entitled “Georgia’s South Ossetia Conflict: Make Haste Slowly”, sounded a more cautious note. She told IWPR that the Georgians risked creating increased tensions by trying to force the pace of change in the peace process.

“Georgia’s desire to change the dynamics in the conflict resolution process by non-violent and development-oriented means is positive, but the determination to solve the conflict on its own terms only and perhaps too quickly could backfire and lead to a dangerous rise in tensions – as the events over the last couple of months indicate,” said Frichova.

“At the same time Tbilisi should consider carefully to what degree Sanakoyev is now representative of the wider Ossetian constituency,” she said. “Tbilisi promotes him as someone who expresses the views of the Ossetian public, but for most Ossetians in the conflict zone, that is not the case. For many in Tskhinvali-controlled areas, it is not a given that Sanakoyev could genuinely be an advocate for their interests”

“The Georgian government should engage with all actors, and negotiate not just with those who agree with Tbilisi’s position but primarily with those who don’t.”

Dmitry Avaliani is a journalist with 24 Hours newspaper in Tbilisi and a member of IWPR’s EU-funded Cross-Caucasus Journalism Network project.

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