With the Western powers' overwhelming condemnation of the South Ossetia secessionist polls, Moscow has stopped short of recognizing them by saying that the independence referendum in breakaway region was an expression of free will by the South Ossetian people through “democratic procedures.”
“Regardless of Tbilisi’s and some Western countries’ attempts to downplay the importance of this event, it is still of a significant nature. It would be short-sighted not to at least take it into consideration,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on November 13.
Some analysts in Tbilisi say that Moscow is refraining from direct recognition but will definitely use the referendum as a tool to pursue its policy of applying a “universal approach” – applying a "Kosovo precedent" - to conflicts in the post-Soviet space.
The setting up of a so-called “alternative government” loyal to Tbilisi, to be led by Dimitri Sanakoev, is seen as a countermeasure by the Georgian authorities.
The Tbilisi-loyal South Ossetian government will most likely be used as a tool to argue that there is “a different voice” in South Ossetian society whose position should also be taken into consideration in the conflict resolution process.
This policy is a clear attempt to unilaterally change the current status quo in the conflict zone, which is expected to give Tbilisi the upper-hand in its demands to change the existing quadripartite negotiating format, involving the Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and Russia’s North Ossetian sides. Georgian officials say this format is “outdated and ineffective.”
Sensing that Tbilisi may gain the upper-hand in this diplomatic standoff over South Ossetia, Moscow has already condemned the “alternative government” of South Ossetia. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned on November 10 that the attempt to create such a body may lead to a military confrontation. And in a separate statement on November 13, it added that the alternative polls were organized by a group of “adventurers” who were trying to foil the Tskhinvali-organized “fair” elections.
It is not yet clear how or if Tbilisi will formalize its currently informal ties with “the alternative authorities.” Issues related to funding also remain unclear.
Some unofficial reports indicate that the headquarters of “the alternative government” will be established in the Georgian village of Kurta, few kilometers north-east of Tskhinvali.
EU, NATO, U.S. as well as Council of Europe (CoE) and OSCE chairmen have condemned South Ossetia polls in separate statements.
The OSCE does not recognize and does not acknowledge the outcomes of the referendum or any of the electoral activity in the South Ossetia region and considers it as “counterproductive,” the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, said on November 13.
“The 'referendum' contradicts Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. The EU considers that the situation in South Ossetia did not allow the free expression of the popular will,” The Finnish EU presidency said on November 13.
“The results will not be recognized by the international community, the vote did nothing to bring forward the search for a peaceful political solution and the circumstances in which it has been carried out, especially the fact that ethnic Georgians were not given the right to vote, makes it irrelevant even as an indicative poll,” the CoE Secretary General Terry Davis said in a statement on November 12.
“On behalf of NATO, I join other international leaders in rejecting the so-called 'referendum' and 'elections' conducted in the South Ossetia / Tskhinvali region of Georgia. Such actions serve no purpose other than to exacerbate tensions in the South Caucasus region,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO Secretary General said in a statement on November 11.
Polls in breakaway South Ossetia will only serve “to exacerbate tensions and divert attention from the need to peacefully resolve the conflict,” the U.S. Department of State said in a statement on November 8.