SOUTH OSSETIA — KEY PLAYERS
Eduard Kokoity, President of South Ossetia
Eduard Kokoity is a former wrestling champion,businessman, and youth communist party leader. He is a staunch Ossetian nationalist and also strong ally of Russia who has dual citizenship with Russia. Kokoity first became an elected parliamentarian in 1990, and then was voted President of South Ossetia in 2001 and again in 2006 in internationally unrecognized elections.
For Kokoity, South Ossetia is not part of Georgia. He is seeking unification of South Ossetia with North Ossetia within the Russian Federation. Only Russia and Nicaragua recognize South Ossetia as a sovereign nation and Kokoity as its President.
Since the August 2008 conflict, internal South Ossetian opposition to Kokoity has been rising, stemming from claims that he has created an authoritarian regime, stifled voices of opposition, and misused international funds intended for rebuilding South Ossetia post-conflict.
Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia
Mikheil Saakashvili holds a Master’s of Law degree from Columbia Law School in the United States and a diploma in Comparative Law of Human Rights from the International Institute of Human Rights in France.
Saakashvili was first elected to the Georgian parliament in the mid-1990s. As parliamentarian he held senior positions and worked to democratize Georgia after seven decades of Soviet authoritarian rule. He resigned in 2001 over deep concerns about the level of corruption in the government led by Eduard Shevardnadze and then led the November 2003 protest that peacefully removed Shevardnadze from power. Saakashvili was elected President of Georgia in 2004 with an overwhelming majority, and then re-elected in 2008 and 2009 in spite of rising opposition.
Saakashvili staunchly opposes independence for Georgia’s ethnic secessionist movements in South Ossetia, and also in Abkhazia and Azeria. A vocal minority of ethnic Georgians blame Saakashvili for the August 2008 conflict with Russia and accuse his government of increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Official bio
Russia has consistently supported South Ossetia’s right to self-determination. Russia views South Ossetia as a valuable chess piece in its post-Cold War geopolitical manoeuvering vis-a-vis NATO and the West.
In August 2008, Rusia sent soldiers deep into Georgia and to support the into South Ossetia separatists against the Georgian armed forces. Russia then formally recognized South Ossetia as an independent state – one of only two countries to do so. Russia treats Georgian involvement in South Ossetia as illegitimate.
Sensitive to Western interests, Russia has not yet permitted South Ossetia to join North Ossetia as part of Russia. Russia has made it clear it does not want to see Georgia be made a member of NATO.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
NATO is a military alliance of 28 member countries who have agreed to defend each other in response to any attack by an external party. Georgia wants to join NATO in order to deter or defend against future Russian military involvement on Georgian soil, including its South Ossetia region. NATO-Georgia relations are progressing. The 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit promised Georgia that it would eventually join the organisation, but did not offer Georgia a Membership Action Plan – a necessary process for becoming a member. Germany, France and some other NATO members are concerned that if Georgia were to join NATO, its unsettled conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia could force NATO into a war with Russia.
European Union (EU)
The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member. Georgian membership in the European Union would greatly strengthen its political, security and economic ties with the West. Georgia feels that EU membership would reduce the likelihood of Russian military involvement in Georgian territory, including in South Ossetia.
The European Union and Georgia have close bilateral relations. Georgia is considered to be a likely future member of the EU, but does not currently qualify for a number of reasons, including the ongoing territorial disputes in Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.
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[quote]It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it. — Eleanor Roosevelt [/quote]