South Ossetia’s Tibilov Praises Russia as Rebel Region’s Sole Protector

TSKHINVALI, South Ossetia – The separatist leader of Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia region Leonid Tibilov, claimed in a Friday interview with Russian newspaper Kommersant that his patrons in Russia were the sole guarantors of his administration’s claim to self-governance.

Pointing to a March 2015 agreement signed by Tibilov’s Russian-backed rebel government, the document legally binds South Ossetia to a phased full integration process into the Russian Federation.

Under the agreement, South Ossetia's military and economy are to be seized by Russian authorities and placed under Moscow’s full control. The treaty also grants the region’s residents automatic Russian citizenship, and promises to raise salaries for civil servants and state pensions to levels matching those in Russia.

Tibilov was quick to point out that his actions are meant to curry favor with South Ossetia’s impoverished population. He did, however, emphasize that his main priority had little to do with economics, but was instead focused on defending against ‘external aggression’.

“South Ossetia has lived in a constant sate of war or the threat of another aggression from Georgia. Now, with our Russian allies, we’ve established a new level of security and bilateral cooperation,” Tibilov said.

Russian recognition of South Ossetia’s unilateral declaration of independence following the 2008 Russian-Georgian War was a turning point in establishing a formal alliance between Moscow and its separatist proxies in the regional capital Tskhinvali, according to Tibilov.

“We understand that miraculous changes won’t happen in the short term. We have yet to complete the signing of all the terms of the agreement. But the main goal of the contract – integration with Russia – will be achieved soon,” Tibilov said.

Immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian-backed rebels in South Ossetia broke away from Georgia. Moscow occupied and effectively annexed the area, as well as Georgia’s other breakaway region Abkhazia.

Russia ratified a similar strategic partnership treaty with Abkhazia’s separatist government in February. The deal envisages the creation of a common defense and security space, including the full integration of local militias into the Russian Armed Forces.

By Tamar Svanidze

Edited by Nicholas Waller

18 March 2016 16:39