March 11 was supposed to be a big day for South Ossetia, the tiny breakaway region with a wish to become one with Russia. A South Ossetian delegation had arrived in Moscow with an engagement ring — the so-called Treaty on Alliance and Integration — but Russia was just not ready to commit. Perhaps because it has too much going on in its life right now.
The main battleground for the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, South Ossetia never made a secret of its desire to become the next Crimea. Its leadership had left for the signing-ceremony in Moscow to much fanfare at home and teeth-grinding in jilted Tbilisi, which claims the mountainous border region as its own.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin did not even receive the delegation, much less sign the agreement meant to merge the Russian and South Ossetian economies and government agencies.
Russian media was awash with speculation: Putin had a running nose or thinks the territory did a sloppy job with the agreement or is bogged down in Ukraine and does not feel like adding another region to his land-grab collection right now. “Indefinite postponement of such a document’s signing on the eve of an event is an unprecedented development,” wrote Russia’s Vzglyad newspaper.
Some have wondered whether the Kremlin was getting cold feet altogether. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, likely was aware of that. After denying that Putin is sick (a trip to Kazakhstan was also delayed), he later informed Russian media that the signing has been postponed until March 18.
Meanwhile, South Ossetia is taking care of its own housekeeping.
Within South Ossetia, a finger of blame for the delay in the signing ceremony has been pointed at the de-facto foreign minister, David Sanakoyev, who is accused of making public the unfinished version of the agreement without official consent.
South Ossetia’s de-facto parliamentary speaker, Anatoly Bibilov, noted with regret that the territory’s offers to make South Ossetia’s de-facto Supreme Court and ministry of emergency situations extensions of Russian institutions were axed from the draft.
A vote of no confidence in Sanakoyev was scheduled for March 12 in the region’s miniature, 34-seat de-facto parliament.
Yet the real cause for Moscow’s lack of robust enthusiasm for the deal may lie elsewhere.
Money, despite Russia's economic woes, is not necessarily the issue. But with hundreds of troops already on the ground in the territory and a strategic foothold that puts it within easy striking distance of the Georgian capital, why rush things?
Ultimately, some analysts say, the deal may be more Tskhnivali’s obsession than anything else.