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Russia and South Ossetia slam Otkhozoria–Tatunashvili list

3 July 2018
Giga Otkhozoria and Archil Tatunashvili

The Russian and South Ossetian authorities have slammed Georgia for passing the Otkhozoria–Tatunashvili sanctions list into law. On 2 July, authorities in South Ossetia labelled the list ‘cynical’ and ‘irresponsible’, dubbing it ‘another indicator’ of Tbilisi’s ‘lack of desire to face its own mistakes and normalise relations’ with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The list includes those accused or convicted in absentia for ‘the murder, kidnapping, torture, and inhumane treatment’ of Georgian citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and for the cover-up of these crimes, since 1991.

South Ossetia accused Georgian government of using the case of Archil Tatunashvili, who died in South Ossetian custody reportedly after being tortured, for its own ‘populist interests’ to gain ‘political dividends’, on the background of an ‘unstable political situation’.

According to the South Ossetian authorities, they are considering similar measures against ‘certain categories of Georgian citizens’, so that ‘justice reaches those who committed crimes against Ossetians’.

On 28 June, South Ossetian Parliamentary Speaker Pyotr Gassiyev confirmed to Russian state-run media Sputnik Ossetia that they were working on their own list named after Grigory Sanakoyev, which will include Georgian, Ukrainian, American and other citizens. According to Ossetian sources, 18-year-old Grigory (Grishik) Sanakoyev was tortured and killed in 1991 in Tskhinvali (Tskhinval), during the Georgian–Ossetian conflict.

‘There is no doubt that such “sanctioning” activities will definitely, and not in a good way, influence the atmosphere of international talks in Geneva and will make cooperation within the framework of Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) more difficult’, a statement from South Ossetia’s Foreign Ministry reads.

The IPRM was set up after the August 2008 war, with more regular meetings between Georgian and South Ossetian representatives. Georgian–Abkhazian talks within the IPRM stopped in March 2012, resuming after the murder of 31-year-old Giga Otkhozoria in May 2016 at the Khurcha checkpoint between Abkhazia and Tbilisi-controlled territory.

The Abkhazian and Russian parties walked out of latest Abkhazia IPRM discussion on 27 June after Georgia’s representatives refused to drop the issue of Otkhozoria’s murder from the agenda. Georgia’s State Security Service again raised the issue of the criminal responsibility of Abkhazian border guard Rashid Kandzhi-Ogly, who was sentenced by the Kutaisi Court of Appeals to 14 years in prison in absentia for Otkhozoria’s killing. On 21 April, the Abkhazian authorities announced they had dropped criminal proceedings against Kandzhi-Ogly, citing a lack of evidence provided by the Georgian side.

[Read more about the controversy around Kandzhi-Ogly and May IPMR meeting on OC Media: Abkhazia releases border guard accused of killing Georgian man]

The walkout followed Sukhumi’s swift condemnation of the list on 26 June, calling the new Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze’s decree forwarding the draft Tatunashvili–Otkhozoria list to parliament ‘baseless’, ‘extremely destructive’, and ‘provocative’.

‘Deteriorate relations’

The Otkhozoria–Tatunashvili list was criticised by the Russian Foreign Ministry on 2 July as an example of political decisions by Tbilisi that ‘deteriorate its relations’ with the Abkhazian and South Ossetian authorities. Russia named the initiation of another UN resolution on IDPs and refugees from Abkhazia and South Ossetia as another such step.

The UN General Assembly adopted the Resolution on the Status of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, Georgia on 12 June. The resolution is an annual non-binding document highlighting IDPs’ and refugees’ right to safe return to their homes.

According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin expressed such criticism of the list and the resolution during his meeting the with the EU’s Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar. Russia reportedly underlined that these ‘political decisions’ contradicted the ‘good intentions’ and ‘steps towards a better future’ Tbilisi had vowed to pursue.

On 27 June, new Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze declared a ‘developed and European-style Georgia’ as the only solution on offer to Abkhazians. The statement was made during his visit to Samegrelo, a region neighbouring Abkhazia. ‘War is pain and belongs to past, while our future is peace and development’, Bakhtadze said in Zugdidi.

Political consensus in Georgia

Georgia’s Parliamentary majority and opposition parties have agreed on the importance of the Otkhozoria–Tatunashvili list. After the list’s announcement by Bakhtadze on 26 June, one of the leaders of the ruling Georgian Dream Party, Eka Beselia, stated that adopting the Tatunashvili–Otkhozoria list was ‘about defending national interests’ of Georgia.

MP Giga Bokeria of the opposition European Georgia Party said on 3 July that Russia’s reaction to the list confirmed that ‘it was a right step to take’, adding that the list should include more people, especially — ‘representatives of Russia’s occupation forces’ who covered the committed crimes. The list has been criticised by some among the opposition for its implementation, including because a number of names on the list are already presumed to be dead.

[Read more about identities in the list and first reactions to it on OC Media: Georgia releases Otkhozoria–Tatunashvili sanctions list]

The list includes the names of 33 individuals, 24 involving cases related to Abkhazia and 9 to South Ossetia. It includes the head of the South Ossetian security services (KGB) in Akhalgori (Leningor), Alik Taboyev, and Akhalogori Deputy Prosecutor David Gurtsiyev, who are both accused of involvement in kidnapping, torturing, and killing Archil Tatunashvili.

Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze has indicated that the list was ‘not exhaustive’, promising it would be expanded and that ‘all executioners will be punished’. The new Georgian cabinet submitted this list to parliament as a follow-up to a 21 March parliamentary resolution initiated by the opposition European Georgia in reaction to Tatunashvili’s killing.

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

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