Illegal Presidential Elections in the Tskhinvali Region: Why Bibilov Lost and What to Anticipate in Future
Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst
At the beginning of May, the 6th illegitimate presidential elections were held in the Tskhinvali region since the end of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. The incumbent President, Anatoly Bibilov, lost to Alan Gagloyev in the second round of the elections. In the de facto republic, most presidents are unable to run for a second term.
Developments before 2022
The first de facto presidential elections in the Tskhinvali region were held in 1996, with Ludwig Chibirov winning. In 2001, despite having Moscow's support, Mr. Chibirov lost to Eduard Kokoity, a businessman who had recently returned from Russia. Until now, Kokoity is the only president to manage to win a second term: He received 98.1% of the vote in 2006.
The next elections were held in 2011-2012 amid a political crisis. Anatoly Bibilov lost, despite Moscow’s support (he personally met with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, before the elections), after which a political crisis broke out in the de facto republic, leading to re-elections. Leonid Tibilov won in that runoff election, one in which Bibilov was no longer participating. In the 2017 elections, Bibilov beat Tibilov. Tibilov also met with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, before the elections; however, a crucial role in determining the fate of the elections was played by Putin's influential aide, Vladislav Surkov, who is said to have lobbied for Bibilov's candidacy.
The 2022 Elections
The Pre-Election Campaign
Bibilov took the lead from the start and, using legal leverage, prevented several powerful rivals from registering as “presidential” candidates. Among them were the former de facto defence minister, Ibragim Gassiev, and an opposition member of the de facto parliament, Davit Sanakoev. Bibilov's main rivals were Alan Gagloyev, the leader of the Nykhaz Party; Gary Muldarov, an MP; Alexander Pliev, the Vice-Speaker of the de facto parliament; and Dimitri Tassoev, a former MP.
In the run-up to the election, the opponents did not intimidate each other during televised debates, during which their criticism often turned into insults. Bibilov's election campaign was also assisted by Russian political technologists. Gagloyev's brother, who is accused of triple murder, has been the subject of numerous videos, for which relatives of the deceased were also recorded in Dagestan. For its part, Gagloyev's team also freely turned to “black PR.”
Bibilov made a referendum on joining Russia the main message of his election campaign to succeed. He tried to portray Gagloyev as an anti-Russian candidate who believed that the referendum issue was not in Russia's interests at this stage, and that it only served Bibilov's election goals.
Bibilov personally went to Donbas to gain Moscow’s support, and facilitated the dispatch of ethnic Ossetian contractors and volunteers employed at the Russian 4th military base to Ukraine to participate in the Russian military aggression there. The issue soon turned negative on Bibilov, as a number of the military servicemen withdrew from the war, openly criticizing the attitude towards them, which had manifested in difficult conditions in conducting the war, the fact they were given damaged military equipment to use, and the incompetence of the Russian military commanders.
The First Round
On April 10, in the first round of the elections, Gagloyev received 36.9% of the vote (10,705 votes) and Bibilov 33.5% (9,706). A total of 28,976 people participated in the illegitimate elections, which equals 74.26% of the total number of “voters.” The ethnic Georgian population displaced from the Tskhinvali region after the 1991-1992 and August 2008 wars did not participate in the elections.
In the first round, Gagloyev also succeeded in the occupied Akhalgori municipality which is populated by ethnic Georgians. He promised them he would open the so-called border with the rest of Georgia. Crossing points connecting the Tskhinvali region and the rest of Georgia have been closed since September 2019, after a Georgian police checkpoint was set up near the village of Chorchana. Bibilov temporarily opened the crossing point at Easter, April 21-25, in hopes of gaining the support of local ethnic Georgian voters himself.
The Second Round
The second round of elections was first scheduled for April 28 but, due to complaints from three “citizens” of the so-called South Ossetia, the date of the second round was set for May 8. The postponement of the date was presumably ordered by Bibilov, who needed some time to mobilize supporters for a decisive battle. For his part, Gagloyev also used this time to rally support from the other opposition candidates.
In the second round, Gagloyev received 56.09% (16,134 votes) and Bibilov 40.90% (11,767). 3.01% (867) voted against all candidates. A total of 29,423 people participated in the second round, 73.93% of the total number of voters. Gagloyev's advantage was so obvious that Bibilov soon conceded his defeat and wished the winner Gagloyev fruitful work. The inauguration of the new de facto president will take place on May 24.
Why did Bibilov Lose?
Jabiev’s case is the black spot of Bibilov's presidency. In August 2020, Inal Jabiev, who was arrested for attempting to assassinate the de facto Interior Minister of the Tskhinvali region, Igor Naniyev, died as a result of violence by law enforcement officials. Jabiev's death was followed by a long protest from the local population. Bibilov was even forced to oust the government, but refused to release the Prosecutor General, Uruzmag Jagaev. In protest, opposition members of the de facto parliament refused to attend sessions.
Bibilov's reputation was also damaged by the so-called Chorchana-Tsnelisi crisis, which was caused by the deployment of a Georgian police checkpoint near the occupation line. He was accused of inaction. In addition, Bibilov was accused of conceding 200 square kilometers of “Ossetian” land to Georgia.
Bibilov was often accused of corruption and cigarette smuggling. According to his opponents, the funds allocated by Russia were not spent properly.
Who is Alan Gagloyev?
Gagloyev was born in 1981 in Tskhinvali. In 2002, he graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Law of the “South Ossetian State University.” In 2003, he took advanced training courses in Vladikavkaz within the framework of the Presidential Training Program of the Russian Federation. He worked for the Ministry of Economic Development of the de facto republic in 2002, although much of his career has been connected with the State Security Committee, where he worked from 2004 to 2017. His biographical records indicate that he also participated in the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. In 2017, he participated in the illegitimate presidential elections but without success, and in 2020, he became the leader of the parliamentary opposition party Nykhaz.
What Challenges Will Gagloyev Face?
Gagloyev will have to solve a number of problems. At the initial stage, the main political challenge will be the formation of a “government” where the interests of all his supporters must be protected. He was supported by all the opposition candidates and therefore they now expect that their assistance will be properly appreciated. In addition, public expectations are quite high. Dissatisfaction with Bibilov was so great that Gagloyev was even supported by voters with different political sympathies. Consequently, after the defeat of Bibilov, their claims will be directed towards Gagloyev.
Gagloyev's main problem will be overcoming the economic challenge. While the Russian military aggression continues in Ukraine, funding for the Tskhinvali region is being reduced, the Russian Ministry of Economy announced. Against the background of the fact that the incomes of the region are practically dependent on Russia and there are no resources to locally increase incomes, solving the economic problems of the population will be Gagloyev's main headache. A prolonged war in Ukraine will deepen the crisis in Russia, which will exacerbate Gagloyev's political and economic challenges.
About the Referendum
Despite his defeat, Bibilov said that a referendum on the unification of “South Ossetia” with Russia will be held. He claims that all the necessary documents have already been collected and handed over to the Central Election Commission. However, this issue was part of Bibilov's pre-election campaign and may lose its relevance under Gagloyev's rule, as the issue of the referendum is not a priority for Russia at this stage either. Leonid Kalashnikov, a member of the State Duma and Chairman of the ‘Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots,’ said that Gagloyev was in no hurry to hold the referendum. This issue depends more on Moscow, on how ready Russia and Belarus are to expand the Allied State.
What Will Change for Russia?
Although Andrey Turchak, the Secretary General of the ruling United Russia Party, came to Tskhinvali to support Bibilov in the run-up to the election, Kremlin officials overseeing the direction of the Tskhinvali region did not have a clear favourite. Dmitry Kozak, the Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of Russia, responsible for the occupied regions of Georgia, met with both candidates after the first round. Russian state media also interviewed both.
The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrey Rudenko, who oversees the post-Soviet space and the occupied regions of Georgia, said that “after Gagloyev's victory in the presidential election, Russia hopes to preserve the legacy of relations with South Ossetia.” He added: “We expect everything to be fine.”
A delegation of the Council of the Russian Federation also positively assessed the election process. According to the Head of the delegation, the Senator Sergey Tsekov, Russian senators did not observe any violations. According to Vladimir Jabarov, a member of the Federation Council and the First Deputy Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the change of leadership will not affect relations between Tskhinvali and Moscow, as both candidates are pro-Russian.
Various ruling groups in Russia may have had their own candidate in the elections, but in the end, Gagloyev's figure will not have any radical impact on relations with Russia. The vast majority of Ossetian politicians are pro-Russian.
What Will Change for Georgia?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia condemned the so-called presidential elections in the occupied Tskhinvali region held by Russia. “Such illegal actions violate the fundamental principles and norms of international law and grossly violate Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” it said.
Russia's military-political influence over the Tskhinvali region is so high that it is unlikely that anything will radically change in Georgian-Ossetian relations in the short term. The current format of bilateral relations is likely to be maintained - the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (Ergneti meetings) and the fate of the Geneva International Discussions will depend on relations between the West and Russia. The only tangible issue that Gagloyev can solve in the first stage of his career is the opening of the so-called crossing points, which will be a relief for the ethnic Georgian population living in the occupied region. As for the long-term perspective (the perspective after the end of the war in Ukraine), the dynamics of Georgian-Ossetian relations will be decisively affected by the outcome of the war in Ukraine and the degree of Russian military-political or economic influence over the occupied regions of Georgia.
- Moldova’s challenges alongside the war in Ukraine
- Is Israel's New Government Shifting its Policy towards the Russia-Ukraine War?
- What does Russia want from Georgia?
- The Ninth Package of Sanctions - in Response to the Russian Escalation and Missile Attacks
- The Danger Russia’s Neighbors May Face after the Russo-Ukrainian War
- Belarus and Russia deepen trade and economic relations with occupied Abkhazia: A prerequisite for recognition of Abkhazia's “independence”?
- "Captured emotions" - Russian propaganda
- A Looming Winter Energy Crisis in Europe: Can Azerbaijan Become the Continent’s Next Large Energy Supplier?
- The Eighth Package of Sanctions - Response to Russian Annexation and Illegal Referendums
- What’s next for Italy’s foreign policy after Giorgia Meloni’s victory?
- War in Ukraine and Russia’s declining role in the Karabakh peace process
- The Russian Exclave of Kaliningrad and the Lithuanian "Sting"
- Seventh Package of Sanctions and Embargo on Russian Gold
- What could be the cost of “Putin’s face-saving” for European relations
- In line for the candidate status, Georgia will get a European perspective. What are we worried about?
- The break-up of the Hungarian-Polish coalition - an opportunity for the EU
- Failed Tskhinvali Referendum
- The War and Georgia
- "Autocratic Peace"
- “Rural Orbanism”- Polarization as a determinant for Hungary's political future
- How to Respond to Russian Ultra-Orthodox-Historic-Hegemonism?
- The War in Ukraine and the UK’s New Role in Eastern Europe
- What Will the Abolition of the OSCE Minsk Group Bring to the South Caucasus?
- The Presidential Election in France and Europe’s Political Future
- Will Pashinyan Be Able to Make a Drastic Turnaround in Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations?
- Why Has the Abkhaz Side Become More Active on Social Networks?
- Why a Neutral Ukraine Is Not on Putin’s Mind (Ukraine’s Neutral Status Is Getting Closer, but What Does It Mean to Putin?)
- Europe's energy future - challenges and opportunities
- Uncontrolled Mass Immigration and the Position of the Georgian Government
- Changes in Putin's propaganda narratives since the Russian invasion of Ukraine
- Ukraine will soon embark on a path of practical integration into the European Union. What about Georgia?
- Positions and Actions of Turkey in the Russo-Ukrainian War
- NATO’s possible expansion in Northern Europe and its significance for Georgia and Ukraine
- Political Winter Olympics in Beijing
- What Is behind Putin’s Sudden Gambit in Ukraine?
- Abkhazia in 2021: Energy Crisis, New “Minister” and Political Controversy
- L'Europe pourra-t-elle éviter le “déjà vu” ? (France, President of the Council of the European Union, and the Tensions in Eastern Europe)
- US-Russia Relations and the Issue of Ukraine
- The New Targets of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Regime
- What are the Prospects of the Eastern Partnership Summit Set on 15 December?
- The Upcoming EaP Summit - Why the Trio Initiative Should Finally Find Its Way
- What Will the Post-Merkel Era Mean for the EU’s Russia and Eastern Neighbourhood Policy?
- What Lies Behind the Growing Cooperation of the Georgian and Hungarian Governments
- “Doberman” as a Minister: Inal Ardzinba’s Prospects and Challenges
- The Belarus Crisis: How to Enhance Our Resilience Against the Russian Strategy for Its Near-Neighborhood
- Moldova’s Gas Crisis Has Been Russia’s Yet Another Political Blackmailing
- EU-Poland’s worsened relations and what it means for the EaP
- Lessons From Germany on Political Culture: What Georgia Can Learn From the German Parliamentary Elections
- Belarus One Year On: An Insecure Regime Under Russian “Protection”
- Why Did Iran-Azerbaijan Relations Become Strained?
- Russia’s Parliamentary Elections - What Can Be Said About the Regime’s Stability
- An Emerging Foreign Policy Trend in Central and Eastern Europe: A Turn from China to Taiwan?
- Vaccination: “To Be, or not to Be”…
- Can Georgia use China to balance Russia?
- Sharia Patrols in Kabardino-Balkaria: A Growing Trend or a Local Conflict?
- Belarus’ exit from the Eastern Partnership and what to expect next
- Pacta Sunt Servanda: Agreements must be kept
- The West vs Russia: The Reset once again?!
- Associated Trio, What is Next?
- Formation of a New “Political Elite” in Abkhazia - Who Will Replace the Old “Elite?”
- The symbolism of the EU flag and why a true Christian would not tear it down and burn it
- The Cyber-Dimension of the Geneva Summit
- Securitization of the Arctic: A Looming Threat of Melting Ice
- Europe in Anticipation of the Results of a “Harmful Deal”
- (Re)Mapping the EU’s Relations with Russia: Time for Change?
- USA, Liberal International Order, Challenges of 2021, and Georgia
- The Political Crisis in Moldova: A Deadlock without the Way Out?
- Russia's Testing or Bullying?
- ‘Vaccine Diplomacy’: A New Opportunity for Global Authoritarian Influence?
- Deal with the ‘Dragon’: What Can Be the Repercussions of the China-EU Investment Agreement?
- The End of the Russian Natural Gas Monopoly in Balkans
- Who did the judge sentence: Navalny, Putin or Russia?
- Biden’s Conundrum
- 2020 Developments in Abkhazia: “Elections,” the Pandemic and Deeper Integration with Russia
- The Hungarian Crisis: Is the EU Failing against Authoritarianism?
- Could Belarus Become a Prelude to the Great Polish-Swedish War 400 Years Ago?
- Vladimir Putin's Annual Grand Press Conference - Notable Elements and Messages
- COVID 19 Pandemic Economic Crisis and Reducing the Instability of Georgia’s National Currency
- Russia’s Energy Policy in the Tskhinvali Region
- Who Won and Who Lost with the War in Karabakh?
- What Russia has Gained in Karabakh
- What Armenia Did and Did not Lose as a Result of the Ceasefire Declaration in Karabakh
- Protests in Belarus, Lukashenko and the Russian Federation
- Some Thoughts on the Use of the Term „Post-Soviet Space“
- Georgia’s European Way During the Period of Pandemic Deglobalization
- Turkey's Caucasus Policy Against the Backdrop of the Latest Armenia-Azerbaijan Tensions
- Khabarovsk Krai Protests as an Indicator of the Russian Federation’s Stability
- Trio Pandemic Propaganda: How China, Russia and Iran Are Targeting the West
- From Russia with… a Canny Plan
- “Elections” in Abkhazia: New “President’s” Revanche and Challenges
- Georgians Fighting the Same Battle 99 Years Later
- Confrontation between Russia and Turkey in Syria
- Political Crisis in Occupied Abkhazia
- What is the Significance of Killing General Qasem Soleimani?
- What Will the New Dialogue Format with Russia Bring for Georgia?
- On the “Russian Culture Center” in Georgia
- Whither Economic Policy?
- Main Messages of Russian Propaganda
- Massive Cyberattacks On Georgia Calls For Defense And Resilience
- What do we know about the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and Georgia?
- What is the Connection between NATO and Reclaiming Abkhazia?
- New Focuses of the Anti-Occupation Policy
- Georgia's Problems are not Addressed at G7 Meetings: Who is to Blame?
- Vladimir Putin’s Main Messages in his Interview with the Financial Times
- Georgia and Russia’s Post-modern Fascism
- Dugin has Come Out as a Supporter of Georgia – How Did This Happen?
- The Outcome of the European Parliament Elections - What Does it Mean for Georgia?
- Deterring Russia
- On NATO, Russia and Pat Buchanan
- Modern Russia’s Own Wars of Religion
- Bolton’s visit to Moscow– what to expect in U.S-Russia relations?
- The Risk of the Renewal of the Karabakh Conflict after the Velvet Revolution in Armenia
- The Situation in Syria’s Idlib Province, Interests of the Parties and Threats
- The Helsinki Summit and its General Results
- Why It Is Necessary to Know the Day the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 Started
- Georgia’s Position in the Westernization Index 2018
- Why Did the Results of the G7 Summit in Charlevoix not Meet Our Expectations?
- How to Win Cold War 2.0
- The Russian “Ambassador’s” Rotation in Abkhazia
- Why did the Foreign Ministers of G7 not remember Georgia during their 23 April 2018 Toronto Meeting?
- Georgia and the American Strategy
- Putin’s Pre-Election Economic Promises: Myth and Reality
- Let Geneva Stay the Way it is
- Turkey’s Military Operation in Afrin – a New Phase in the Syrian Conflict
- Kremlin New Appointments and the Occupied Regions of Georgia
- Dangers Originating from Russia and Georgia’s Security System
- Eurasian Custom Union and problems of Russian – Georgian FTA
- Is Georgia’s Export Growth Sustainable?
- Russia’s Influence over the Field of Security in Tskhinvali Region is Growing: Support for Full Integration
- What Awaits the People of Gali?
- Growth of Military Spending and Relations with Russia: Azerbaijan trying to Gain Advantage over Armenia
- Disrupt and Distract: Russia’s Methodology of Dealing with the West
- Russian Diplomats in Georgia – who are they, how many of them are there and what are they up to
- Putin’s Visit to the Occupied Abkhazia: Was our Reaction Actually Adequate?
- Pence’s Visit to Georgia: Several Lessons and What We Should be Expecting
- Is it Acceptable for Georgia to Declare Neutrality?
- Georgia’s European Perspective in the Context of EU’s Future Evolution
- Brexit Negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom have been re-launched: What will be their Influence on Georgia?
- How to Stop the “Creeping Occupation”
- Kremlin’s Policy in the Occupied Regions of Georgia Moves to a New Stage
- Syrian Civil War in the Context of Regional Security
- The Winnable Second Round of Russia’s Neighbors’ Struggle against Its Imperialism
- Turkey’s Domestic and Foreign Policy in the Context of Regional Security
- Post-Soviet States – Struggle for the Legitimation of Power
- Parliamentary Elections in Armenia – The Triumph of the Governing Party
- Current Foreign Policy of Georgia: How Effective is it in Dealing with the Existing Challenges?
- Observations on the Agreement Reached with Gazprom
- New Russian Weaponry in the Caucasus and Its Impact on Georgia’s NATO Aspiration