Georgia closed the border after the assassination of the South Ossetian official
// Georgia and South Ossetia accuse each other of the murder of Oleg Alborov First Deputy Prime Minister
Secretary of the South Ossetian Security Council Oleg Alborov was killed yesterday morning. South Ossetian authorities immediately accused Georgia of the murder. First Deputy Prime Minister of the unrecognized republic Boris Chochiev told Kommersant that the deceased was on Tbilisi's blacklist of South Ossetian leaders marked for extermination. In response to Tskhinvali's accusation, Tbilisi suggested that the murdered politician had become an inconvenience to South Ossetian authorities and was the victim of conflict between clans there. It is noteworthy that the assassination took place on the eve of the St. Petersburg summit, threatening to make the South Ossetian conflict a topic for discussion there.
Accounts of the Crime
Alborov was killed early in the morning by a powerful as he was opening the door to his garage, located a short distance from his home in Tskhinvali. He died on the spot. Alborov was a key figure in the government of the breakaway republic and a veteran of the Georgian-Ossetian war. Until mid-2004, he was minister of state security in South Ossetia.
The republic's prosecutor's office and Interior Ministry investigated his death. South Ossetian officials, however, blamed the murder on Georgia without waiting for the results of the investigations. “We hold that certain forces in Georgia set on an escalation of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict are behind this act of political terrorism,” Irina Gagloeva, an official representative of the South Ossetian government, stated. South Ossetian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiev expressed a similar opinion to Kommersant, adding that Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili released a blacklist of South Ossetian leaders subject to physical elimination a year ago. “Tbilisi has published such a list for the four or five times since 1998,” he said. He noted that he was on the list himself, as was the assassinated secretary of the Security Council.
Georgia reacted swiftly. Later the same day, the Georgian Interior Ministry issued an official statement in which all claims of Georgian involvement in the act of terror were called “absurd and false.” Moreover, it was suggested that Alborov's murder was the doing of South Ossetian politicians. “He was the most constructive politician,” said Georgian State Minister Georgy Khaindrava. “It was possible to talk about peace with him. That's why they removed him. The Tskhinvali hawks saw him as competition in the so-called presidential elections that are supposed to go on this autumn. All talk of Georgian links is silly.”
Another suggestion, attributed to the Interior Ministry, arose in the Georgian media at the same time, this time with a criminal subtext. Alborov, who controlled a significant part of South Ossetia's armed formations, allegedly had a strained relationship with the republic's president Eduard Kokoity. They were unable to agree on the division of profits from cigarette smuggling, which is a significant source of revenue for the unrecognized republic.
Escalation of the Conflict
The politician's murder took place as conditions in the conflict zone were becoming tenser. Yesterday, Georgia closed access to the Transcaucasian Highway to Russian and South Ossetian citizens without Georgian visas at the village of Kekhvi, where the Roksky Tunnel connects South Ossetia with North Ossetia. As a result, Chochiev told Kommersant, four buses traveling from Tskhinvali through the Georgian village of Eredli to South Ossetian villages were stuck at the border that morning. “The Georgians wouldn't admit people with Russian passports and, as everybody knows, 98 percent of people in South Ossetia have Russian citizenship,” he said.
The Georgians' closure of the Transcaucasus Highway was a response to the closure by Russia of the border checkpoint at Kazbegi-Verkhny Lars on the night of July 8. In Moscow, they said that the closure was necessitated by “renovations,” but Georgia took it as “an unfriendly step,” since it considers Kazbegi-Verkhny Lars the only legal crossing on the border. The two other border crossing points, Gantiadi-Adler in Abkhazia and Roki-Nizhny Zaramag in North Ossetia, function illegally, in Tbilisi's opinion.
The South Ossetian leadership claims that yesterday's events (the murder of Alborov and the closure of the border crossing) were far from the first provocations made by Georgia. Kokoity said that provocations happen almost daily. The recently increased Georgian military presence in the conflict zone is especially disturbing to Tskhinvali, which had earlier released data showing that Georgia was busily buying military hardware abroad.
South Ossetian spokesman Gagloeva also touched on that topic. “In the last week,” she said, “an increase in militarized forces has been observed in Georgian border settlements and additional forces are being brought in along side roads. At present, along the seven-kilometer stretch, there are about 1500 various Georgian forces.”
Adding to the tension, the construction of a Georgian military base was begun last week 26 km. from the city of Gori, near South Ossetia. The base, where 4000 troops will be stationed, is formally an element in Georgian reforms, which are being conducted by NATO standards. Georgia hopes to gain admittance to NATO next year. In Tskhinvali, the base is shown as evidence that Tbilisi is preparing for a military solution to the South Ossetian problem. “They say that, if arms are on display in the first act, they will be in use in the second act,” Alborov said not long before his death.
Before Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili left for his visit to the United States last week, they were saying in Tskhinvali that the military solution was scheduled for November, when presidential elections were to take place in South Ossetia. Yesterday, that date was moved up to late July-early August.
Moscow also believes in the military solution. Kommersant has obtained information that Russian authorities are preparing for the worst case scenario. If a real threat of Georgian invasion arises, Moscow plans to increase the number of Russian peacekeepers, under cover of rotation, and place them at the approaches to Tskhinvali. In extreme necessity, they will be replaced with regular members of the Russian Army on the pretext of defending the Russian citizens in South Ossetia.
Getting Ready for the G8
The majority of commentators addressing yesterday's murder thought that it, like the recent explosion of the minibus taxi in Tiraspol, was intended to cause an escalation of conflicts before the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Moreover, as Kokoity confessed, they were ready for provocations in South Ossetia. Kokoity said that the goal of such provocations was to force the republic to respond in kind and to discredit Russia with accusations of supporting “separatist regimes.” The upcoming G8 summit is an ideal forum for making such criticism.
The Kremlin understands that possibility as well. Russian officials have been incessantly pointing out to the West the correctness of using a Kosovo-type settlement in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Just last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted in an Internet conference that it was unacceptable to “take one approach to one country and region of Europe, let's say Kosovo, and completely different ones to other regions, let's say Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
Saakashvili, who did not reach any agreements when he visited Russia in the middle of last month, visited the U.S. last week and met with U.S. President George W. Bush. Restoring the territorial integrity of Georgia was a central theme in their negotiations. But that does not mean that the White House is firmly determined to bring up the subject in St. Petersburg. On the contrary, the U.S. administration made it clear that it does not want to touch on that topic that is so sensitive for the summit's host. But if the conflict heats up significantly, it will be hard for them to remain silent about it.
All the Article in Russian as of July 10, 2006