As often in the conflict-ridden topic of conflict resolution in South Ossetia, much of the jousting comes in the form of commissions. Tbilisi held its first state commission to define South Ossetia's status on July 24. Chaired by Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, the commission includes ruling National Movement Party lawmakers, an opposition party member, civil society advocates, the region's pro-Tbilisi "provisional administration" head Dmitri Sanakoyev and representatives of the Ossetian community in Georgia. The commission's formation came on the heels of a July 22 meeting of more than 100 members of Georgia's Ossetian community at an assembly in Tamarasheni, just one kilometer from Tskhinvali, the capital of separatist South Ossetia.
Touted as "all-inclusive," the commission has one key player missing: South Ossetia's Moscow-backed separatist leader Eduard Kokoity. Georgian officials say that they would welcome the involvement of Kokoity's envoys. A campaign recently launched by the Sanakoyev administration "Kokoity Fanderast" or "Kokoity Farewell" in Ossetian puts in question how welcome that involvement would actually be, however.
Details of the plan, announced on July 23 by Sankoyev administration spokesperson Vladimir Sanakoyev (no relation to Dmitri Sanakoyev), have not been forthcoming, but a recent rush of building activity in Kurta, seat of the Sanakoyev administration, suggests that the campaign's message is intended by way of contrast with conditions in Tskhinvali.
Throughout Georgian-controlled areas of South Ossetia, roads are being resurfaced, a cinema, discotheque, electronics store, 25-bed hospital, secondary school, sports center, two gas stations, a second bank, children's amusement park, swimming pool and other facilities including new gas and water lines have been completed or are reportedly under construction. Financing for the construction boom is not entirely clear; Sanakoyev himself states that his administration relies on a 23 million lari ($13.8 million) budget from Tbilisi.
But, roughly four kilometers away in Tskhinvali, separatist leader Kokoity says that he has no intention of saying farewell.
Kokoity claims that Tbilisi is pursuing a policy of disinformation aimed at destabilizing the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone. He points to Sanakoyev's recent inclusion in meetings with representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Parliament. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"[A]llowing Sanakoyev to speak at an EU meeting [in Brussels] confuses the international community about who, in fact, is the legitimate representative of South Ossetia and the person fulfilling the nation's will," Kokoity stated in an interview with Eurasianet.
The South Ossetian leader dismissed the invitation to take part in the state commission on defining the breakaway region's status, arguing that the territory's status was already decided in a November 2006 referendum on independence. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"We wished dialogue was being conducted between legally elected representatives," said Kokoity. "It's proof that [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili is panicky and afraid of dialogue with representatives of the South Ossetian nation, according to law."
No sign exists, though, that Tskhinvali is planning a response to the "Kokoity Goodbye" campaign.
Kokoity dismisses such activity as "not concerning us" and claims it is further proof that Sanakoyev, a former prime minister and defense minister for the separatist government in Tskhinvali, is a puppet of the Saakashvili administration. "We firmly believe in our strength as a nation and not in the words of mentally ill people," the de-facto president stated in reference to Sanakoyev spokesperson Vladimir Sanakoyev.
As for matching what Kurta has to offer, Kokoity asserts that the average monthly salary in the separatist-controlled zone is up from 80 to 120 rubles (about $3.13 to $4.70) when Sanakoyev was prime minister from July-December 2001, to 2,220 rubles (about $86.14). Availability of electricity has also increased to "much more than three hours per day," he claimed.
Exchanges between Sanakoyev, who left South Ossetia once Kokoity came to power in 2001, and the separatist South Ossetian leader are often akin to schoolyard brawls. Both sides claim the other is a traitor. Both sides question each other's mental health. Both sides charged the other for a recent water crisis. Sanakoyev is portrayed as a compulsive gambler; Kokoity as a corrupt mafioso.
The gunfire that residents say could be heard nightly until two weeks ago between Georgian and pro-Tskhinvali Ossetian forces in the area only underlines that acrimony.
Dmitri Sanakoyev, for his part, maintains that everything being done in Tbilisi and the Georgian- controlled territories testifies that he, his supporters and the Georgian government are committed to solving the problem of South Ossetia peacefully and transparently.
"Kokoity can't reach that aim," asserted Sanakoyev during an interview in his office in Kurta. "By connecting his politics to Russia he can't work out such a progressive plan. He has not united the people of South Ossetia. His politics are based on threats, blockades and extremism. All he can accomplish is war, nothing more."
"We promised in the elections that South Ossetia will remain a republic and our aim is to be recognized within Georgia by the international community and to show them that we are a multi-ethnic society," Sanakoyev asserted. The pro-Tbilisi leader says his goal is to unite . . . South Ossetia and hold presidential elections. "I'll accept whomever they elect. It doesn't have to be me," Sanakoyev assured this reporter.
Meanwhile, amidst the ongoing animosity between Kurta and Tskhinvali, however, members of the international community are choosing their words carefully.
At a July 27 press conference in Tbilisi, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mathew Bryza, praised the Georgian government's efforts to stick to its three-stage peace plan for South Ossetia, although he did not address the lack of progress on demilitarization, which was the first stage of the plan envisaged by Georgian President Saakashvili in 2004. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Instead, Bryza focused on the success of economic and confidence-building measures and stated that Tbilisi was ready for the third stage of the plan, which is resolution of the conflict.
On July 26 in Tbilisi, Jose Borrell Fontelles, the Special Envoy of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman-in-Office, told reporters that the OSCE is encouraged by both sides' commitment to a peaceful resolution of the 17-year-long conflict. Joint decisions on demilitarization of the conflict zone and policing are still needed, he added.
Paul Rimple is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi. Sophia Mizante is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.