South Ossetia: One year on

“Eduard Kokoity, the president of South Ossetia”

On the eve of the first anniversary of Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia, the republic’s President Eduard Kokoity tells RIA Novosti about the investigation of that tragedy, the progress in rebuilding the infrastructure and about who is awaiting Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tskhinval.

In July 2009, the head of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia disclosed the documented number of South Ossetian civilians who had died as a result of the Georgian aggression: 162 people dead. However, immediately after the war the republic’s authorities claimed ten times that number, about 1,500 dead. Why such a difference in figures?

What happened in August 2008 was a great tragedy for our small nation. I sometimes feel that the question is blasphemous. It would have been a tragedy for us even if two people and not two thousand had died. Investigation is in progress and fresh details of that Georgian crime are emerging. You gave the official toll for today. The figures differ not because somebody wanted to inflate them or picture it as a global disaster.

Initially the data that was coming in was based on the fact that there were refugees who crossed the border, people were starting looking for their folks and making calls. They started filing applications. The applications coming from various directions were used to track people down. Later, after the end of the aggression, after Russia had practically saved our nation, it turned out that the people presumed dead were alive.

The figure you gave is the current toll, but it may grow.

You are talking only about civilians, but there were also soldiers who died. Many citizens of South Ossetia died and were buried on Russian territory. Many relatives of the victims, considering our national mentality, did not even file for compensation.

After the August war South Ossetia claimed that as a result of shelling 80% of the buildings in Tskhinval and 50% of residential houses had been destroyed. How is the reconstruction going? How many houses and administrative buildings have been restored? How many are still to be restored?

70% of residential stock and 80% of administrative buildings were destroyed. Everything is being done, jointly with the Russian Ministry of Regional Development, to restore private houses in the first place. We have suspended the construction of administrative buildings in order to concentrate all the resources on rebuilding private houses, rebuilding the war-devastated economy for the benefit of the people, as well as the critical elements of infrastructure (I am referring to the Edis-Tskhinval water pipeline and all the urban infrastructure).

Overall, we will build more than 360 houses this year, not counting the gift from the Moscow Government, the Moskovsky district in Tskhinval.

There is no clearly marked border between South Ossetia and Georgia. Will South Ossetia, with Russia’s help, build a fully-fledged border, which Russian border guards are helping to protect today? If so, what may be the cost and would it perhaps require an increased Russian military presence in South Ossetia?

The state border of South Ossetia is already securely protected jointly with Russia after our countries signed a relevant agreement. Yes, there are problem areas in our republic which will be guarded jointly. I don’t believe there is a need to increase the military presence or the number of border guards. There are enough forces and assets in place, especially since Russian border guards are very professional and very efficient, which eases tensions in the communities with predominantly Georgian population.

As for Georgia, it is not yet ready and it does not seek to ease tensions. There is a territory marked as the territory of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region and we will develop it. For now the border will pass through the territory of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region considering that Georgia has not yet given its consent.

But we have very serious territorial issues that must be raised. They are the Truso Gorge, which today is part of the Georgian administrative unit of Mtskheta-Mtianeti. This is historically Ossetian land which was put under the administration of the Georgian SSR in the Soviet times for some obscure reason. Today we should raise the issue of restoring these lands to Ossetia.

How do you assess the security situation a year after the war? Do you think a repeat of the August events is possible?

Georgia, assisted by the United States, NATO, Ukraine, Israel and other states, has quickly restored its military potential. The Georgian army is better equipped today than it was in August 2008. It regularly holds exercises jointly with NATO; and NATO and the U.S. regularly send their military experts there. But we have not been sitting on our hands either. Mindful of the events of August 2008, we are also taking the relevant measures. In light of the agreements we have signed with the Russian Federation, I would like to reassure my fellow countrymen that the situation will remain stable and I rule out a new Georgian aggression now.

How do you see the future of South Ossetia, which will have to live side by side with Georgia? Is dialogue with the Georgian leadership possible?

We are building an independent sovereign state. We have every reason to believe that we will succeed. The assistance Russia is rendering us is the page of history that the people of Ossetia will always remember, we will always be grateful to Russia wherever the Ossetians may live, in South Ossetia, North Ossetia or any other part of the world. Our small nation was under siege and was being exterminated not for five days in August 2008 and not since 1989, but from the beginning of the 20th century.

If Saakashvili were to come to South Ossetia, what can he expect?

In principle I rule out his coming to South Ossetia. I think a rabbit can never visit a leopard; otherwise the outcome will be lamentable for the rabbit. If he finds himself there he will become easy prey for the leopard who is awaiting him.

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