The attempts of the separatist republic of South Ossetia to gain independence can be traced back to the era of the USSR. The independence of South Ossetia has not been recognized by any state, with the exception of unrecognized separatist republics of Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria. South Ossetia is ethnically heterogeneous: according to the census in 1979, 65.077 % of Ossetians and 28.8 % of Georgians live in the country (97 988 inhabitants in all). Georgians live in two ethnically mixed regions and in various South Ossetian border regions or enclaves in the southern part of South Ossetia.
Peace-keeping forces operate in South Ossetia under the contingent consisting of Russian, Georgian and North-Ossetian battalions. According to the Agreement on Principles of Settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian Conflict and Deployment of Joint Peace-Keeping Forces on 26 July 1992, presence of any armed forces is inadmissible in the conflict zone – with the exception of the law enforcement authorities and the Joint Peace-Keeping Forces in zone of Georgian-Ossetian conflict (JPKF) – without permission of the Joint Control Commission for Georgian-South Ossetian Conflict Resolution (JCC) and the JPKF.
The GUAM member states attempt to change the structures of peace-keeping forces in the conflict regions. In the meeting in relation to the United Nations Plenary Meeting at the end of September, 2006, they agreed on creation of their own police forces supposed to operate in the conflict regions of Georgia and Moldova. At the same time they try to establish conditions for weakening the Russian influence in the separatist regions.
In the first half of April, 2007, the government of Georgia passed a law on establishing suitable conditions for peace resolution of the conflict in former South Ossetian autonomous region. The law establishes a temporary administration territorial unit; its competitions include also negotiations with Georgia concerning the autonomous status of South Ossetia. The reaction to the passed law was the statement of the de facto Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia, Alan Pliev, who stated that the „temporary administration” will represent a few villages with Georgian population (1).
The president of the temporary administration unit became the „alternative president” Dmitri Sanakoev. The presidential election of the Republic of South Ossetia as well as the „alternative election” took place on 12 November 2006. The de facto Vice-Chairman of the Parliament of South Ossetia Yuri Dziccoity claims that Georgia has recognized neither the separatist, nor the alternative elections and this fact is a part of a political game: if the RF recognizes the election in the Republic of South Ossetia, Georgia will recognize the „alternative election” (2).
The Sanakoyev administration demands the EU to participate on financing the projects of economic restoration in South Ossetia. The RF provided inhabitants of South Ossetia with Russian citizenship, integrated them in its social security system and carried out projects of economic restoration. That gives the RF means of influence, and Georgia and the temporary administration react by trying to lower the participation of the RF on controlling the projects of economic restoration. This process is conditioned by changing the subject providing financial support to the projects in South Ossetia; the RF is supposed to be replaced by the EU or the USA. However, these have to recognize the legitimacy of Sanakoyev as a chairman of the temporary administration unit and as a South Ossetian leader. The change the subject is conditioned by weakening the means of the RF influence in South Ossetia, including termination of the agreement on cooperation in the economic restoration in South Ossetia.
In the second half of June, 2007, President Saakashvili signed a decree terminating the agreement between the governments of the RF and Georgia on cooperation in restoring economy in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone and on return of refugees. This step from side of Georgia aroused strong criticism from South Ossetian representatives. South Ossetian JCC co-chairman Boris Chochiev subsequently stated that the RF can change its attitude towards the issue of recognition of the territorial integrity of Georgia. The parliament chairmen of Abkhazia, Sout Ossetia and Transnistria are supposed to deal with the situation at the end of June, 2007 in the fourth meeting of the Inter-Paliamentary Assembly (IPA) of the Commonwealth for Democracy and Rights of Nations (CDRN).
The Foreign Affairs Ministries of the RF and South Ossetia stated that they consider the decree null. In fact it was proven in the fourth meeting of the Council of Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (IPA) of the Commonwealth for Democracy and Rights of Nations (CDRN) member states, where actual resolutions were passed concerning coordination of their legislature with the RF legislature and mechanisms of carrying out and controlling the RF national projects for the RF citizens living in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria.
The representatives of the CDRN member countries emphasize that the resolution in favour of the independence of Kosovo will become a precedent in international law. In relation to this we have to mention statements of the South Ossetia Foreign Minister Murat Dzhioev on 21 June 2007 and of Transnistria Foreign Minister Valeri Litskai on 16 June 2007 in the conference of Foreign Affairs Ministries of the CDRN member states. In the conference, Litskai stated that depending on the proceeding of negotiations concerning the future status of Kosovo in the UN SC, the diplomacies of unrecognized countries will prepare another joint declaration addressed to the UN SC. In the beginning of April, 2007, the Secretary General of Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Commonwealth for Democracy and Rights of Nations (IPA CDRN) stated that in case of Kosovo the Western states refer to violation of human rights and ethnic purges, but that the reasons of conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were the same. Thus according to his opinion, these countries have legitimate right for sovereignty (3).
In relation to escalating tension in the region, intense coordination of the steps that South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria take is obvious. In the Council of IPA CDRN meeting at the end of June, 2007, the Chairman of the Transnistrian Supreme Council Yevgeni Shevchuk referred to future posibility to gain independence following from up-to-now unrealized Kosovo precedent. The President of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh stated that the countries reached an agreement on joint proceeding in gaining independence.
While the RF supports such initiatives by means of economic, political and security tools in the region, Georgia tries to eliminate these tools by means of influence in international organizations (GUAM, OSCE, WTO, UN) and by means of the tools it has in South Ossetia, including the Sanakoyev administration. Open disharmony of the priorities of the RF and South Ossetia with the priorities of Georgia and the Sanakoyev administration indirectly causes escalation of tension in the region, manifested in conflicts on local level.
Considerable tension in the region is caused by the reconstruction of the Avnevi-Nikozi road. The temporary administration of South Ossetia gives their reasoning for bulding the road that it is the only route connecting Georgian villages in Prone gorge with the rest of Georgia. The motivation in question was challenged by the co-chairman of the South Ossetian part of JCC Boris Chochiev, when he stated that the construction of the road follows military aims. Subsequently, the JPKF commander Marat Kulakhmetov stated that the road construction increases tension between the conflicting sides and considerably destabilizes the situation in South Ossetia.
At the end of June, 2007 the Russian part of the JPKF occupied the construction site on the road Avnevi – Nikozi in section near to Prone gorge and prevented the Georgian workers to continue with the construction. The inhabitants of nearby Georgian villages reacted with protest actions and thus forced the Russian units to leave their positions and to continue with construction work.
Problems with water supplies also increase the tension in South Ossetia. According to Ossetian representatives, the problems started in the second half of May, 2007, as a result of intentional damage on the Edis-Tskhinval water supply system. Georgian government accused the Eduard Kokoity administration of cutting the water supplies. Reportedly, these statements were rejected by the monitoring group of the OSCE and local administration representatives (4).
Subsequently, South Ossetia cut the water supplies for Georgian villages in Gori District and began drilling artesian wells – these represent alternative water sources, together with supllying by water tanks. However, according to Sankoyev`s statements the damage was eliminated already in the beginning of June, 2007. The international monitoring group reacted with a statement that the water does not flow in original volume. In the JCC meeting in the second half of June, 2007, the state minister for the conflict settlement Merab Antadze claimed that the water flows in the conduit without any trouble. The South Ossetia and the RF representatives claim that the water flowing is of smaller volume.
The statement was specified in the second half of June, 2007 by the Prime Minister of South Ossetia Yuri Morozov, according to whom only 60 % of water flows in the water supply system, and the rest is covered by the South Ossetian side from the output of artesian wells. At the end of June, 2007 the South Ossetia Information and Press Committee stated that the volume of water supplies decreased to 25 % of required volume.
The problems were intensified also in relation to supplies for Georgian villages. The Georgian villages in the Gori District are not supplied with the full volume of water, because two water canals are closed. According to Morozov, the elimination of the damage is conditioned by allowing South Ossetian plumbers to the water conduits in the territory controlled by the Georgian side. At the beginning of July, 2007 inhabitants of Georgian villages blocked the Artsevi-Tskhinval road near the Ergneti village. They requested restoration of water supplies through water canals. They claimed that if the water supplies were not restored, the losses in agricultural crop would lead to critical lack of food in the region. The road was unblocked the same day after an agreement had been made between the protesting population and the JPKF commander (5).
At the end of June, 2007, another sequence of mutual accusations between Georgia and South Ossetia began, concerning attacks on civil objects in the territory controlled by the other side, and continued also in the beginning of July, 2007. These statements are always denied by the other side and accompanied by a reciprocal accusation.
The South Ossetian and Russian sides reacted to the events by a requirement of calling a JCC meeting. The demand in question was introduced also at the end of June, 2007 in Moscow, in the meeting of Eduard Kokoity and Sergei Lavrov. The President of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia deplored the „unilateral agression from the side of Georgia”. The same day the events were deplored by the President of North Ossetia Teimuraz Mansurov and subsequently the Parliament of North Ossetia as well. At the end of June, 2007, a public meeting took place in the capital of North Ossetia organized by the United Russia party. The President of South Ossetia Kokoity also participated on the meeting, and he expressed openly his will to live in a united Ossetia within the RF.
Reducing Russian embargos and improving the RF-Georgian relations can lower the tension. At the end of June, 2007, the Foreign Minister of Gergia Gela Bezhuashvili stated that Georgia expects from the Russian side certain steps that will lead to warming up the mutual relations. As an indication of positive trends can seem the signing of 8 contracts between the Russian Inter RAO UES and the Georgian government concerning construction of several hydroelectric power plants in Georgia. Other contracts concerned exchanging electricity. According to them, Georgia exports redundant electric energy to the RF, and the RF is supposed to return it in wintertime.
Gergian-Russian relations might be positively influenced also by withdrawal of the military base in Akhalkalaki. This military base was supposed to be handed over by the end of 2007. In 2008, the military base in Batumi is supposed to be withdrawn as well; its military equipment is removed gradually. Another positive step might be an agreement of Russian and Georgian aerolines on operating regular flights Tbilisi-Moscow, but it is at standstill due to written statement from the Russian side.
Georgian-South Ossetian relations are a considerable source of risks with international consequences. There is lasting tension in the region – between South Ossetia and the RF on one side, on the other between Georgia and the Sanakoyev administration. If the situation in the international relations sharpens, South Ossetia will remain one of the possible epicenters of conflict with the highest possible rate of risk. There is a considerable degree of ethnic tension in the region manifested in form of local conflicts and mutual accusations of agression.
Intense negotiations between the representatives of the separatist republics of Georgia and Moldova are held at present. These support maintenace of Russian influence in the regions, especially by means of creating conditions for relization of the RF development projects in the separatist regions, which Georgia attempts to restrict by mens of decree on termination of the agreement on cooperation in restoring economy in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone and on return of the refugees. The termination of the decree will be ignored by the RF and South Ossetia, which can be another source of tension in Georgian-Russian relations in sense of accusations from the Georgian side of not meeting the obligations following from the termination of the decree.
The situation in South Ossetia might be positively influenced by warmingup the Georgian-Russian ties, related to RF efforts to enter WTO. This fact is manifested in form of restoration of the cooperation in energy sphere. The relations between Georgia and the RF might be positively influenced also by withdrawal of the military base in Akhalkalaki, as well as possible restoration of air connection Tbilisi-Moscow.
Considerably negative impact on stability in the region can have the recognition of the independence of Kosovo based on collective or individual principle, because the representatives of separatist regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria carefully watch the development of the situation in UN SC and accordingly configure their political steps.