Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 153

In a Nezavisimaya gazeta interview last week, South Ossetian Supreme Soviet chairman Lyudvig Chibirov expressed confidence that unification of South and North Ossetia "will take place, if not today then tomorrow." Chibirov was further cited as telling the OSCE mission to Georgia that the merger will take place because his people has so decided. Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze reacted by postponing a tentatively planned meeting with Chibirov which the South Ossetian leader had been reluctant to accept in the first place. (BGI news agency, August 16; Radio Tbilisi, August 19)

The "decision" referred to is the self-styled referendum of 1992 in which South Ossetia voted to merge with the Russian Federation’s republic of North Ossetia. Chibirov’s statement sets back Tbilisi’s hopes that a political settlement of the conflict was within reach. In April, Shevardnadze and Chibirov, along with Russian, North Ossetian, and OSCE mediators, signed a memorandum which papered over the differences and attempted to reconcile the principles of territorial integrity of states and self-determination of peoples — code words in this case for Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and South-North Ossetian merger, respectively. Shevardnadze optimistically presented that memorandum as a milestone toward a political settlement and also a positive example to Abkhazia. Tbilisi offers South Ossetia the status of an autonomous region endowed with real powers within Georgia, one step below the federated republic status being offered to Abkhazia.

Moscow encouraged South Ossetian — along with Abkhazian — secession from Georgia in 1990-93, but has since grown cautious about challenging existing borders openly. Russia has restrained its loyal ally, North Ossetian president Aksarbek Galazov, from supporting a North-South Ossetian merger which would legally and practically amount to annexation of South Ossetia by the Russian Federation.

Georgia Returns Looted German Books.