Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 96

In the presence of Russian and Georgian presidents Boris Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze, a memorandum on security and confidence-building measures in the South Ossetian conflict zone was signed yesterday in the Kremlin. Georgian foreign minister Irakli Menagarishvili and South Ossetian Supreme Soviet chairman Lyudvig Chibirov, together with the mediating parties’ representatives — Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov, North Ossetian president Akhsarbek Galazov, and the OSCE mission chief in Georgia, Dieter Boden — all signed the agreement.

In addition to the stipulations made public in advance of the signing, the document also provides for gradual demilitarization of the area, except for peacekeeping troops — thereby ensuring a continuing Russian troop presence. Negotiations on the thorniest issue, that of South Ossetia’s political status, are yet to begin. Yeltsin and Shevardnadze commented that the signing of the document marks the first substantive step anywhere in the former USSR toward the political resolution of a regional conflict. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, May 17)

The conflict dates back to November 1990 when South Ossetia, resisting Georgia’s drive for independence from the USSR led by then-president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, unilaterally upgraded its status within Georgia from autonomous region to autonomous republic. Tbilisi retaliated by annulling South Ossetia’s autonomy altogether. South Ossetia then proclaimed its secession from Georgia and its intention of remaining within the USSR, subsequently deciding to join North Ossetia and thus become part of the Russian Federation. Armed clashes broke out from January 1991 through mid-1992 and were ended by a Russian-Georgian-South Ossetian peacekeeping force. A German-led OSCE mission has significantly aided the political talks.

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