A citizen of Russia and resident of Moscow of South Ossetian origin, Eduard Kokoyev, was inaugurated on December 18 as president of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, which has de facto seceded from Georgia. Kokoyev received 53 percent of the vote in a December 11 runoff ballot, defeating the Communist Party leader Stanislav Kochiev. No international organization recognized or monitored the exercise.
The greatest loser in the election, however, is the outgoing president, Lyudvig Chibirov, who received only 20 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting. Chibirov had led South Ossetia from 1991 on, as chairman of its Supreme Soviet and then as president. The disastrous economic situation is held responsible for Chibirov’s defeat, but its implications are as political as they are worrying. Chibirov was, in relative terms, the most moderate among the three contenders. He never closed the door to a political settlement with Tbilisi in the framework of the Georgian state, maintained a nonconfrontational and at times cooperative relationship with President Eduard Shevardnadze and basically adopted a wait-and-see attitude, watching Russia’s policy in the North and South Caucasus and observing the course of Tbilisi’s negotiations with Abkhazia. Chibirov’s policy contributed to freezing the stalemate, but it also guaranteed its peaceful character, and preserved hopes for a constructive solution. The situation in South Ossetia remained a far cry from the one with Abkhazia. Shevardnadze more than once publicly acknowledged Chibirov’s relative moderation.
In the presidential election, Chibirov concentrated his fire on the local communist Kochiev, depicting him as a potentially dangerous hardliner who could destabilize the status quo. Chibirov not only overestimated his own popularity, but underestimated that of Kokoyev, who came from St. Petersburg to win the election, and who is even more of a hardliner than Kochiev.
The winner has adopted the position of Abkhazia–which is also that of Transdniester in Moldova (see CIS section above)–concerning relations with the central government. He maintains: first, that South Ossetia is an independent state, deserving of international recognition; second, that relations between South Ossetia and Georgia should be formalized in an interstate treaty among coequal parties; and, third, that, as a precondition, Georgia must officially apologize to South Ossetia for allegedly attempting to perpetuate a “genocide of Ossetians.”
Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement terming the election a “unilateral action,” but stopping short of terming it illegitimate. The ministry called for the resumption of negotiations in the “pentagonal format” which consists of Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, the Russian Federation’s republic of North Ossetia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This format, however, is as heavily stacked in favor of Russia and the secessionist authorities, as is the pentagonal format in Moldova. In each case, the format was accepted by the national government under duress from Russia in the early 1990s; it was designed in each case to minimize any international role in the negotiations and to guarantee Russian manipulation of the conflict. No serious effort has since been made by Western countries to modify these formats. (Prime News, December 6-7, 11, 18; Interfax, December 13, 17-18; Institute for War and Peace Reporting (London), Caucasus report no. 108, December 2001).
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