Tbilisi’s new strategy towards South Ossetian conflict resolution provides new opportunities, but contains risk of escalating tensions in the conflict zone, a policy paper by an influential Tbilisi-based think-tank says.
Policy brief, presented by the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD), analyzes Tbilisi’s recent initiative to set up a provisional administrative-territorial unit on its controlled territory of South Ossetia.
The Georgian Parliament passed this month a law paving the way for the creation of a provisional administrative entity, which apparently will be led by Tbilisi-loyal South Ossetian alternative leader Dimitri Sanakoev.
The policy brief by the CIPDD says that the law creates “legitimate preconditions” for cooperation between authorities in Tbilisi and “the forces that favor the Georgian-Ossetian political unity”.
“If the goal is achieved successfully, powerful integrated Georgian-Ossetian groups of stakeholders may emerge in the region, eliminating, or at least weakening, the ethnic dimension of the conflict,” the policy brief says.
The initiative, which was designed to give some sort of legitimacy to Sanakoev’s administration, tends to demonstrate that the conflict zone is not clearly divided along ethnic lines.
“In fact, the picture is much more complex and requires respective approaches from the international community,” policy brief reads.
The document says that if Sanakoev’s law enforcement agencies include ethnic Ossetian personnel it will most likely reduce level of violence, as South Ossetian secessionist leader Eduard Kokoity’s forces “may be reluctant to attack them.”
But it also warns that Sanakoev still faces “a difficult task to build a critical mass of support in both the Georgian and Ossetian communities of the region.”
The document also warns, that as the initiative undermines current status quo in the conflict zone, it may meet stiff opposition from Tskhinvali and Moscow, “as a result, tensions may escalate in the conflict zone.”
The fact that Sanakoev’s administration will be funded by the Georgia’s central authorities is yet another challenge for the initiative.
“[Funding from Tbilisi is] giving opponents a chance to claim that Sanakoev’s legitimization is a Georgian-designed project rather than the will of a considerable proportion of the local population,” according to the paper.
The policy brief also does not rule out that “at some point in the future” Sanakoev’s group may change its stance and turn against Tbilisi.
Lack of enthusiasm among Georgia’s western partners towards the new initiative is regarded as yet another risk factor for the Tbilisi’s new strategy.
The paper says that international governmental and non-governmental organizations involved in the conflict resolution process may be critical of the idea for two reasons.
“They can see the initiative as an attempt by Tbilisi to create a puppet government in South Ossetia; they may be wary of tensions with Russia, which will break out for certain in case of their cooperation with Sanakoev’s group,” the policy brief reads.
The document also warns that although there is a broad consensus across the Georgian political spectrum on the new initiative, the authorities must make every effort to allay “likely attacks from ultra-nationalist, albeit marginal so far, elements of the Georgian society.”
These groups even oppose to attempts to legitimize even the term “South Ossetia.”
The policy brief says that the initiative’s future largely depends on how it will help to improve the security and living conditions in the areas under the Georgian-control.
“The central Georgian government and the provisional administration must be as benevolent and tolerant as possible towards the Ossetian population of the separatist-controlled territory... The government should step up its measures for the restitution of private property in the conflict-affected areas,” the paper recommends.