The demonstrations as result of the recent Duma elections in Russia receive a lot of attention. This is, of course, a logical thing because we may see some interesting changes in Russia. However, just a few days before the Russian Duma elections, there were also presidential elections in the republic of South Ossetia.
The results of these elections were widely viewed as honest and fair but the situation has turned awkward since not the Kremlin-supported candidate won but an independent candidate. What follows is an interesting game between the president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, the Kremlin, Alla Dzhioyeva (connected to a Russian free fighter coach who tried to run for president as well but was refused, the free fighter coach is seen as the mortal enemy of Kokoity) and the other candidate, Anatoly Bibliov (who is widely seen as the Kremlin man)
Russia Watchers brings you the background story on the situation. First of all, with a translation of a recent article in Kommersant and secondly, with an update on the current situation.
The curious case of Eduard Kokoity
Original by Olga Allenova for Kommersant
The Kremlin has only itself to blame for the current political situation in South Ossetia says correspondent Olga Allenova.
Everybody knows that Alla Dzhioyeva won the presidential elections in South Ossetia; she managed to get 16% more votes then Anatoly Bibilov. This, despite the fact that the supreme court of the country annulled the results of the presidential elections and ordered new elections on the 25th of March, forbidding Dzhioyeva from participating in them. This decision has brought South Ossetia on the brink of civil war. The ones to blame here are Moscow and the current president, Edouard Kokoity, whom is not popular amongst the population of the breakaway republic. The most surprising of all of this is that the Kremlin itself was the least interested in seeing a protégé of Kokoity take the function of president as Russia lost trust in Kokoity a long time ago.
Anatoly Bibilov was not a protégé of Kokoity which is why the Kremlin supported him but nobody tried to explain this to the population. In the months leading up to the elections the situation was as follows: the constitution forbade Kokoity to go for a third term, so a group of deputies close to Kokoity tried to make a plan, the “third term”. Plan A was apparently to change the constitution but that was blocked by the Kremlin as it was apparently tired of the eternal conflict between Kokoity and his prime-minister, Brovtsev. Then, they tried plan B by putting forward a relative of Kokoity, general prosecutor Tajmuraz Khukaev. But once again, the Kremlin signalled that it was not happy with plan b either.
Ossetians have always been very loyal to Moscow. You can even say that the will of Moscow is always seen as the law here. So, if Moscow would state that Kokoity needs to go, not only because of the fact that his term is finished but also because it has lost trust in the leader, the consequences would be clear. Then, the voters would see the Kremlin-backed candidate as a kind of antithesis to Kokoity.
But the Kremlin was not prepared to admit that, for 10 years, it had supported a candidate who did have the necessary traits to be a successful president. So Kremlin thought up another scenario: the party of Kokoity, Edinstvo (Unity) would nominate another candidate, Anatoly Bibilov, who would then be backed by Kokoity. In the end however, it was Bibilov who lost.
Biblov could have won; he had plenty of opportunities. Everybody knows that the Bibilovs live with their children in a standard two-bedroom apartment in Tskhinvali, and this is an important sign for the voters. For many Ossetians, it is unacceptable that many of their leaders lead such luxurious lives whilst the people still suffer from poverty and the consequences of the devastation brought on them by the war in 2008. But when Unity decided to support him, his popularity suffered.
The people in South Ossetia found out that government car were driving in an out of the campaign headquarters of Bibilov. I visited his headquarters a day before the elections were to take place and asked why Bibilov did not break with Kokoity, on which the minister of Emergency Situations said (half-jokingly): “What should I tell him? Get out, you are doomed? I cannot do that”. All this why his staff kept telling Bibilov that after every expression of sympathy, his ratings would fall even further.
And then, a day before the second rout of voting, the whole of SO was plastered by posters with Bibilov and General Prosecutor Khugaev on them. That was the last straw. Only idiots thought Bibilov could still win.
I think I can say know that Bibilov will not run for president anymore. At a press conference last Wednesday by Kokoity (Bibilov was “called” to come as well), the current president of South Ossetia commented on the confrontation between Bibilov and Dzhioyeva, describing his position as “neutral” and stress his conciliatory role in the situation. However, everybody knows that Bibilov was ready to admit defeat and congratulate Dzhioyeva with her victory. Also, the lawsuit against her in the Supreme Court was not initiated by Bibilov but by the party of Kokoity, Unity. Also, one of the judges at the Supreme Court (which annulled the elections) was Atsamaz Bichenov, one of the most influential people in the country and a member of the “Kokoity clan”.
At a certain point, whilst listening to what Kokoity had to say, Bibilov angrily said: “What the hell is he saying!!”. After the same time security started to shoot in the air, seemingly because supporters of Dzhioyeva were trying to storm the building. Bibilov left the building and has never been seen again at any public event. He did not even come to meet with his former competitors. Russia had urgently sent a representative of the presidential administration (Sergei Vinokurov) to this meeting. Bibilov disbanded his headquarters and returned to work at his ministry.
I am sure that if things had gone differently, he (Bibilov) could have won the elections. Perhaps, he would even have been a good president. Unfortunately, he was not as free as the voters of South Ossetia. He could not break with president Kokoity and send the Kremlin’s spin doctors away. So, he lost. And Dzhioyeva won because she, like the voters, had nothing to lose. The Kremlin envoy left after two days, with nothing. On Wednesday, mass demonstrations on the main square of Tskhinvali started. People set up tents, lit fires and danced on the national music. 30 meters away there were armored vehicles and riot police with machine guns. People are going to stay there until Monday: Dzhioyeva has appealed the decision of the Supreme Court which should tell us on the 5th of December to either cancel or confirm it. If it confirms it, it means that another attempt by Moscow to influence/lead a neighboring country has backfired.
This is were Allenova’s piece ends.
The deal…. is off: the Kokoity- Dzhioyeva deal
To solve the situation in South Ossetia, the Kremlin sent Sergey Naryshkin to talk with all the actors in South Ossetia. The fact that they sent Naryshkin is certainly a sign that the Kremlin fears the worst. After a few days however everything seemed solved: in a declaration (published here). Kokoity would leave his post immediately whilst Dzhioyeva would tell her followers to stop demonstrating and go home. Dzhioyeva agreed to re-elections in March and, as a trade off, the Supreme Court allowed her to run for president again. The post of president in the meantime would go to prime-minister (and enemy of Kokoity) Brovtsev. The Kremlin was happy and Dzhioyeva as well. However, as Kokoity announced his resignation yesterday he ordered the creation of a Constitutional Court. Dzhioyeva was not amused (as she, probably rightly, thinks that Kokoity would continue to exercise a lot of influence over the elections by appointing friends) and told the media that the deal between her and Kokoity was off. The Kremlin, it seems, needs to do more damage control in South Ossetia before this all gets out of hand.