Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 105

South Ossetian leader Lyudvig Chibirov yesterday termed “unacceptable” Tbilisi’s proposals to create an “asymmetric federation” in Georgia. Chibirov called for turning Georgia into a “symmetric federation, all of whose units enjoy equal rights.” He also came out against holding negotiations on South Ossetia’s future political status at his upcoming meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Instead, Chibirov proposed focusing on economic and social issues at that meeting, while relegating the issue of political status to working groups. Those groups would then negotiate toward an “interim” document on the basis of Russian, Georgian, and South Ossetian drafts. (Russian agencies, June 1)

The statements harden South Ossetia’s and Chibirov’s own position. “Symmetric federation” means equal status with Abkhazia in a federalized Georgia, should one evolve. Tbilisi’s “asymmetric” concept would imply autonomous republic status for Abkhazia and the lesser status of an autonomous region for South Ossetia. Chibirov’s proposal to downgrade the level and mandate of the political negotiations suggests an intent to drag out the inconclusive talks as long as possible. Other South Ossetian officials have taken such positions previously, but not Chibirov, on whom Tbilisi stakes its hopes for a mutually acceptable settlement. Chibirov’s harder line looks like an immediate consequence of the Georgian debacle in Abkhazia.

Meanwhile on May 31, unidentified gunmen assassinated South Ossetia’s self-styled deputy prime minister Valery Khubulov and businessman Sergei Zlenko on May 31 in broad daylight in downtown Vladikavkaz, capital of Russia’s republic of North Ossetia. According to the eyewitnesses and to North Ossetian authorities, the act bore the hallmarks of a contract killing. Khubulov and Zlenko were known to be involved in trade with nonferrous metals across the Ossetian sector of the Russian-Georgian border. (Russian agencies, May 31 and June 1)