The strongman leader of Georgian rebel region South Ossetia was set to resign yesterday in a deal with the opposition to end a crisis that has rocked the tiny Russian-backed province, local media reported.
The deal is a victory for opposition challenger Alla Dzhioyeva, who led street protests for 10 days after the Supreme Court canceled her surprise leadership election win over a candidate backed by South Ossetia’s patron, Moscow.
South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity will step down as leader of the region, which was the focus of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, and be replaced by South Ossetian Prime Minister Vadim Brovtsev until repeat elections in March.
The text of the agreement that was reached overnight on Saturday said both sides agreed to compromise because of “the profound socio-political crisis in South Ossetia and the threat of further development of civil strife,” local official news agency RES reported.
“When the supporters of Alla Dzhioyeva end all protests and finally recognize the decision of the Supreme Court of South Ossetia, I will announce my early resignation tonight and the transfer of powers to the prime minister of the republic,” Kokoity said yesterday, according to news agency Interfax.
The crisis that started when the court annulled the results of the Nov. 27 leadership polls saw unprecedented round-the-clock demonstrations in South Ossetia, with protesters establishing a tent camp in the rundown main town, Tskhinvali, despite a high-profile armed security presence.
Fears were raised that tensions could escalate into violence in the heavily militarized province after a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the prosecutor-general’s apartment and the arrest of several of Dzhioyeva’s supporters.
Russian media dubbed the protests, which continued through subzero temperatures, the “Snow Revolution.”
The compromise deal, struck after days of talks with a Kremlin official sent to end the crisis that embarrassed Moscow, will allow Dzioyeva to stand for the leadership in March, reversing the court’s decision to prevent her running again.
Ex-wrestler Kokoity led impoverished South Ossetia with Moscow’s financial and military support for a decade, but discontent grew amid accusations of authoritarianism and corruption, with the opposition claiming his government embezzled Russian aid money.
Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, shortly after the 2008 war, despite other world powers insisting that both territories remain an integral part of Georgia.
Georgia said the leadership elections were a sham because South Ossetia is “occupied” by thousands of Russian troops stationed there since the war, when most ethnic Georgian inhabitants were expelled.
The population of South Ossetia is also a subject of dispute, with separatist authorities claiming 70,000, but Tbilisi saying the real figure is closer to 15,000 because of migration and what it describes as wartime “ethnic cleansing.”