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Russia Drawing Closer as South Ossetia Marks Independence

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, September 22
Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev submitted to the State Duma for ratification an agreement between Moscow and Tskhinvali “on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs issues,” the Kremlin said on September 20.

The move coincided with 21st anniversary of so-called “Independence of the South Ossetian Republic,” marked in Tskhinvali on September 20 with a military parade.

In July, when President Medvedev submitted a similar treaty with breakaway Abkhazia to the State Duma for ratification, Tbilisi said the move demonstrated Moscow’s unwillingness “to constructively negotiate ” with Georgia. Sergi Kapanadze, deputy foreign minister has already stated that such steps “distance Russia from the World Trade Organization.” According to the Georgian foreign ministry before the third round of Swiss-mediated talks in July, the Swiss have put forward a paper which envisages the deployment of international monitors at trade corridors and border-crossing points which are under discussion with the Russian Federation. The Swiss proposal also entails the establishment of a state of the art system of informational exchange, which is far more advanced then just the exchange of statistical data. It envisages the exchange of trade-related information both before and after border crossings. This proposal makes it possible to control trade through border crossing points Gantiadi-Adleri, in breakaway Abkhazia, and Roki-Zemo Zaramagi, in breakaway South Ossetia. "The Russian Federation will make a significant step towards joining the WTO if this proposal becomes acceptable for Moscow. If this proposal is unacceptable, then unfortunately for [Moscow], it will not be joining the WTO," Kapanadze said.

Also on September 20, the Russian president congratulated breakaway South Ossetia on “Independence Day” saying in a message sent to the outgoing South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoity, that Tskhinvali can count on Russia’s assistance. Medvedev also expressed confidence that an upcoming presidential election in November “will be confirmation of democratic gains” in the region.

Meanwhile in Tskhinvali, Grad multiple rocket launchers, BTR-80 armored personnel carriers and T-72 tanks were paraded to mark the region’s independence. Russian troops and border guards stationed in the breakaway region also took part in the parade which was opened with both the South Ossetian and Russian anthems.

In his speech while at the parade, current leader of de facto South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity hoped that Georgia would be among those states which would recognize the independence of the region, “Independence and international recognition, peace and security is today's goal of the South Ossetian Republic," Kokoity said.

As analyst Malkhaz Chemia told The Messenger this is an attempt by Russia to have the legal right to control communications and trade, “this document will enable Russia to control each piece of cargo, all goods passing nearby in the de facto regions and in Georgia. Through this Russia protects its own interests, as such a document does not go against international rules, it is simply an agreement on 'collaboration in this field' and nothing more. This is how the Russians will paint it," the analyst stated. Russia might agree to international organizations posting personnel on the borders but certainly not Georgian officials. This was one of the suggestions of the international community and Russia has supposedly agreed to this suggestion, giving the international community and Georgian side no reason to complain against Russia on this issue. Concerning “democracy” in the de facto regions, Chemia stated that after the so-called presidential elections in South Ossetia, the breakaway region will be further from the democratic world. “Unlike in Abkhazia’s presidential elections which raised political issues, in South Ossetia the term 'politics' cannot be used at all. All the candidates are disliked even by Ossetians and Russians. This is a criminal region and the onus is on the Russians to better control the situation there. The Russians will appoint a Russian to a high level post who will rule the region in reality, no matter who the de facto leader will be, as the Russians will not give the so-called presidential position to a Russian,” Chemia remarked.