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South Ossetia

South Ossetia has the status of a partially recognized republic, which proclaimed its independence from Georgia in December 1991. The legal status of the region as an independent republic is recognized by five states — Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Tuvalu.

On April 9, an estimated 33,000-40,000 voters went to the polls to vote fort the next president of the Republic of South Ossetia. The vote marked the culmination of an acrimonious three-year standoff between incumbent President Leonid Tibilov, who was seeking a second term, and parliament speaker Anatoly Bibilov. The two had long espoused different approaches to the time frame for possible incorporation of the region into the Russian Federation. Tibilov, 65, a former KGB head, was widely believed to enjoy the backing of Moscow, which bankrolls the region.

According to exit poll data, the incumbent head of state Leonid Tibilov gaining 45.8%, its main competitor, the Speaker of Parliament, Anatoly Bibilov - 36.9%. Thus, according to the law, it must be assigned to the second round of elections.

A referendum was held on renaming the republic to the Republic of South Ossetia-the State of Alania. Most of the citizens of South Ossetia voted in a referendum for the introduction of an equivalent name "State of Alania", according to the exit poll, which was carried out of the South Ossetian autonomous non-commercial organization "sociological analysis of the Academy." The initiative was supported by 81.5% of voters who took part in the vote, with against gaining only 18.5%.

South Ossetia had a special status under Soviet rule as the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast within the Georgian SSR. Before 1989 there had been little inter-ethnic strife, but nationalism rose as the Soviet Union started to break-up. South Ossetian nationalists demanded the status of autonomous republic, and declared the South Ossetian Democratic Republic in 1990, fully sovereign within the USSR. The nationalist Georgian government rejected this and violent conflict broke out in 1991, resulting in over 100,000 displaced people and over 1000 dead.

In 1992, Georgia accepted a ceasefire – and the presence of OSCE monitors. Despite successive Georgian governments maintaining pressure on the Tskhinvali regime to reintegrate with Georgia and Russia’s determination to support the de facto South Ossetian government, the situation remained more or less stable, apart from an outbreak of fighting in summer 2004, until the more serious events of August 2008.

Since the war, the population of South Ossetia has been reduced to an estimated 35,000. Many ethnic Ossetians fled to North Ossetia (part of the Russian Federation), and around 14,000 ethnic Georgians left for other parts of Georgia. Some Ossetians have since returned to their homes, but the ethnic Georgians have not.

On 13 May 2009, Greece (chairing the OSCE in 2009) announced a suspension of the renewal of the mandate for the OSCE Mission in Georgia after months of blocking by Russia. The mission was formally wound-up on 30 June.

A ‘parliamentary election’ took place in South Ossetia in May 2009. Parties loyal to the incumbent ‘president’ Eduard Kokoity gained the highest number of votes. Two opposition parties were not allowed to participate because of concerns that they were not loyal to Kokoity. The elections were illegal under Georgian law and the EU, US and NATO all issued statements to the same effect and rejecting the results.

February and April 2010 agreements between Moscow and the de facto Abkhaz and de facto South Ossetian authorities, respectively, establishing Russian military bases in the separatist regions for 49 years, are inconsistent with the terms of the August 12 cease-fire agreement negotiated by French President Sarkozy and signed by Georgian President Saakashvili and Russian President Medvedev. The cease-fire agreement calls for the parties to: refrain from resorting to the use of force, ensure a definitive halt to hostilities, provide free humanitarian access to the separatist regions, withdraw forces to their pre-conflict positions, and open international discussions on security and stability in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

A previous presidential poll was held in November 2011, but the South Ossetia Supreme Court found it invalid after the candidate backed by Russia and the outgoing president lost and accused his opponent of campaign violations. Kremlin-backed presidential candidate Anatoly Bibilov is now facing a run-off election, after unexpectedly failing to win a majority. According to results published by the electoral commission, based on 99 percent of votes cast, Bibilov won 25.44 percent of votes, just ahead of former education minister Alla Dzhioyeva with 25.37 percent. No other candidate polled more than 10 percent.

South Ossetia held a presidential run-off election 09 April 2012, picking a former KGB chief supported by Russia. A full vote count in Sunday's run-off election showed Leonid Tibilov won with 54 percent of the vote. Tibilov's opponent, human rights ombudsman David Sanakoyev, won 42 percent. About 35,000 people were registered to vote in the tiny province.

The EU, UN, and OSCE co-host ongoing Geneva-based talks on security and stability arrangements in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. The governments of Georgia, Russia, and the United States send representatives to participate in the talks, and de facto authorities from Abkhazia and South Ossetia also participate, as do representatives of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments-in-exile. The talks have established Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms (IPRMs) designed to foster stability on the ground, including on the administrative boundary lines and in the conflict areas. Other items on the agenda include security, unfettered access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia for international monitors and human rights groups, and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.

After a year of negotiations on the small print, in March 2017 Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his formal approval for the signing of an intergovernmental agreement on the modalities for the incorporation of "some military units" of Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia into the Russian armed forces. The agreement was one of a series of ancillary accords deriving from the framework Treaty on Union Relations and Integration between the Russian Federation and the Republic of South Ossetia (RYuO) signed in March 2015.

It appeared that South Ossetia will retain a tiny army, given that President Putin told the Russian Defense Ministry it may make only any minor changes that may prove necessary prior to the official signing of the agreement.

Border Fence

Under an interstate agreement with Russia signed on April 30, 2009, South Ossetia delegated its state border protection functions to Russia until the republic establishes its own border guard service. South Ossetia’s border with Georgia is about 210 miles (350 km) long. There have been intensified fencing efforts in 2013 by the Russian troops on the ground, installing wire fences across parts of the South Ossetian administrative border, which, the local villagers on the Georgian-controlled areas, say affects negatively on their daily life, hinders their free movement and agricultural activities.

The fences were reportedly installed a few hundred meters beyond that boundary, deeper inside Georgian territory. Residents in the village of Ditsi bordering South Ossetia complain that they will not be able to use the land beyond the newly installed fences as pasture any more.

In late May 2013, EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) condemned construction of barbed wire fences on the administrative border between Georgia and South Ossetia as unacceptable, and said it may destabilize the situation in the region. Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a letter condemning what is said were attempts “to stoke up the situation” on the border between South Ossetia and Georgia with an eye to the election campaign in Georgia, and “shifting the blame” to Russia.

Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili suggested 30 May 2013 that the flare-up over the installation of a fence was "misunderstanding rather than policy," adding that "we have to be patient, everything will be clarified. ... "With regards to what is going on at the borders, namely moving the barbed wire, we have made statements on that at different levels," Ivanishvili said. "Quite strict statements were made by various bodies, the Foreign Ministry being one of them. I have a more moderate stance on this issue because I think that it is more about misunderstanding rather than the policy guided from the center, from the Kremlin, if you wish. That’s my suspicion, although I have no evidence. Let’s wait and see how things develop. The minimum that was needed to be done on the government side is being done, including the discussion and statements in the parliament."

NATO is concerned by the situation on the Georgia-South Ossetia border, where Russian forces put up wire fences along the border last week, NATO's envoy for the South Caucasus and Central Asia James Appathurai said on 03 June 2013y. Georgia protested over the setting up of barbed wire fence by Russian border forces along its border with the disputed region of South Ossetia. The building of illegal dividing structures is a violation of existing agreements and impedes the free movement of people, Appathurai said.

Setting up wire fences along the South Ossetian-Georgia border is a totally unacceptable violation of international rights, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said 05 June 2013. “Building such fences is a violation of international law and of the 2008 agreements,” he told a closing press conference following the meetings of NATO defense ministers. “Building fences impedes freedom of movement. It can further inflame tensions,” he added. “It is simply not acceptable, and we urge Russia to live up to her international obligations.”

According to the statement on 04 April 2016 of South Ossetian President Leonid Tibilov, the possibility of a referendum was discussed during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The referendum, which would allow the South Ossetian President to send Moscow an official request to join the Russian Federation, will be held in the near future, Tibilov said at a press conference. "We discussed the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and came to the conclusion that it is South Ossetia's domestic issue. This question needs legal framework and it is necessary to make amendments to the RSO constitution to implement it," Tibilov said.

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