Print Читать на русском
Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article

May 26, 2016, following a sitting of the Political Council under the RSO President, South Ossetian president Leonid Tibilov and parliament speaker Anatoly Bibilov signed a statement on the 2017 referendum on South Ossetia’s joining the Russian Federation. Earlier, the RSO government had been planning to hold the referendum before August 2016. The Russian International Affairs Council asked Sergey Markedonov, a RIAC expert, to comment on the postponement of the South Ossetian referendum.

May 26, 2016, following a sitting of the Political Council under the RSO President, South Ossetian president Leonid Tibilov and parliament speaker Anatoly Bibilov signed a statement on the 2017 referendum on South Ossetia’s joining the Russian Federation. Earlier, the RSO government had been planning to hold the referendum before August 2016. The Russian International Affairs Council asked Sergey Markedonov, a RIAC expert, to comment on the postponement of the South Ossetian referendum.

Why the RSO referendum has become a rallying issue today? What are the internal political reasons for the referendum postponement till 2017?

The idea of joining Russia and having a referendum in South Ossetia is longstanding. The issue has been brought up today for a number of reasons. In 2014, South Ossetia had parliamentary elections. The result was a victory for the Yedinaya Ossetia (United Ossetia) party, which was struggling for the idea of reunification with North Ossetia under Russia's auspices. Yedinaya Ossetia leader Anatoly Bibilov became speaker of the country’s supreme representative body. The presidential administration and President Tibilov, himself, were obviously unable to stand aside and could not help taking control of the situation and using it to their advantage. South Ossetia is set to hold presidential elections in 2017, where the referendum issue will be among the top-ranked ones on the list.

South Ossetia is set to hold presidential elections in 2017, where the referendum issue will be among the top-ranked ones on the list.

Ossetians do not have a strong diaspora in South Ossetia, like Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, neither do they have any access to the sea, like Abkhazians, while the total population number is less than in other de facto states. The country's economy is largely dependent on Russia. This is why the referendum issue has been brought into sharp focus now.

South Ossetian leaders split over the referendum issue. Anatoly Bibilov supports the country's joining Russia in an uncompromised way. President Tibilov, in turn, suggests amending article 10 of the Constitution, reading that South Ossetia may join other states and cede certain powers. From now on it will be focused on Russia. Tibilov implies that the accession is possible, but it is rather a wish, a strategic goal which has been constitutionalised and formalised. However, taking into account Moscow’s reaction, this leaves little room for manoeuvre. South Ossetian home policy has some nuances which are lost in the discourse of “universal geopolitics”.

Sergey Markedonov

What is Moscow’s stance on the referendum?

Russia has never openly supported the South Ossetia referendum and will hardly favor the sentiments. President Putin has always dodged the question of South Ossetia’s status within Russia, hiding behind general statements on the will of the people and responsibility of Georgian leaders for the loss of South Ossetia. The issue is neither rebuked, nor receives serious consistent support.

What is more, there are no good reasons for South Ossetia’s joining Russia. Moscow now has everything it wanted: it has established both its military and economic presence in South Ossetia. It yet remains to decide on the degree of integration and accession to Russia. Thinking rationally, just flying the Russian flag in Tskhinvali will not help here. Except perhaps tickling Russia’s vanity.

What kind of reaction should be expected from Western countries and Georgia?

Russia has never openly supported the South Ossetia referendum and will hardly favor the sentiments.

Mark Toner, a representative of the U.S. Department of State, stated that the United States do not recognise any attempt by South Ossetia to claim sovereign or win any other status outside Georgia. It seems likely that in this situation around South Ossetia most experts and politicians lay emphasis on the Russia–West geopolitical opposition. Western countries will evidently be drawing parallels with Crimea, criticising Russia for revisionism. New sanctions may quite possibly follow the old ones, the least needed thing for Moscow.

Western countries will evidently be drawing parallels with Crimea, criticising Russia for revisionism. .

The West supports Georgia’s territorial integrity, declining to recognise South Ossetia’s independence. However, Western countries do not take any decisive steps towards returning the republic under Georgia’s control. If the West-supported Georgia took any tough measures to get South Ossetia back, then Russia’s aggressive actions would be well-grounded and clear. So Moscow chose to put its decision off till better (or maybe worse) days.

If the Russia–West relationship gets warmer and if Georgia has at least same-level government in future, South Ossetia’s annexation will probably remain just a wish. If the situation follows a negative scenario (say Georgia joins NATO), the card may be played.

What is curious, it is suggested that the referendum be held after the presidential elections in South Ossetia. In autumn, Georgia will have its parliamentary elections. It appears that elections will have been held both in South Ossetia and in Georgia, which will have a new government (or the slightly changed old one). It should be noted that the USA will also have a new administration starting 2017. This is why the postponement decision is akin to adjournment in a chess game. Many things will most likely be different then.

TASS / Stanislav Krasilnikov
Leninogor, South Ossetia, May 28, 2015 

Are any military provocations or anti-Russia provocations among locals likely in future?

I do not see any strong prerequisites for that. The current situation in South Ossetia cannot be compared to its status before August 2008, when four villages of the so-called Liakhvi corridor, Kekhvi, Kurta, Tamarasheni, and Achabeti, were under Georgia’s control. These villages cut the Roki tunnel off from Tskhinvali and, in fact, were an enclave. Leninogorsk district was also largely controlled by Georgia. Now these territories are under South Ossetia’s and Russia’s control. The military and political situation is generally different now. Russia’s military forces have been deployed officially and openly in South Ossetia. When borderisation, i.e. strengthening the South Ossetia-Georgia borders, started several years ago, South Ossetia became, as they say, “a tough nut to crack”. In military terms, South Ossetia will be hard to crash, unless the West lends a “helping” hand. I don’t think that the West is interested in direct military confrontation with Russia. Taking into account the fact that there are no anti-Russian sentiments in South Ossetia, I believe no force majeure events can be expected here.

In military terms, South Ossetia will be hard to crash, unless the West lends a “helping” hand.

Unlike president Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s current government, which is intensively building its relationship with NATO and the European Union, does not use the country as the West–Russia proxy war arena. Quite the contrary, above all conflicts with Russia, the Georgian government is seeking some touchpoints. Maybe with little success, but who could do better in this situation? This allows me to state that the current government is not at all interested in direct military confrontation. Let’s see what will happen in October, when Georgia will have its parliamentary elections. It should be noted that these elections will be different from any other parliamentary campaign in the post-Soviet space. Georgia has become a parliamentary-type republic, not a presidential one. These elections will shape the government, including key ministers, the parliamentary majority, and the international and home policy framework. Much depends on that, as well.

Prepared by Irina Sorokina, the content manager of the RIAC website, and Daria Khaspekova, the chief web editor

Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
 
For business
For researchers
For students