‘Georgia should recognize us as independent state’ – new S. Ossetian president

The recently-elected president of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, has told RT of his background, current state of affairs in the republic and his outlook for what awaits the young state in the upcoming years.

RT: Mr. Tibilov, thank you for finding time for RT. What would be your first step as president of the republic of South Ossetia?

Leonid Tibilov: In just two days, on April 19th, we will hold the inauguration of South Ossetia's President, and the republic's current government will be dismissed. The new President will start forming a new government. During our presidential campaign we came up with a name for this new government – it will be a government of the people's trust. So this will be our first step, because the new government will have a lot to do. South Ossetia has basically been destroyed during the Georgian aggression, we need to rebuild everything. We will work out an integrated approach to this rebuilding process.

RT: Will you continue the policy of your predecessor or select a new course?

LT: My predecessor worked in different conditions. We will continue the course chosen by our people, its goal being prosperity of our people, improved living standards. We are at a new stage of our republic's development right now. And we will act in accordance with the demands of this new stage.

RT: Do you plan future work in cooperation with your opponent from the past elections? Maybe offer him a position in your government?

LT: David Sanakoev, who was my opponent in the election, is on the presidential staff. We will meet very soon, and we have met before. I think that his expertise and professionalism would be a good asset, so we plan to work with him in the future as part of the new government of the people's trust.

RT: What, in your opinion are the most important problems currently facing South Ossetia?

LT: My meetings with my constituents showed that there are many problems. South Ossetia was attacked by Georgia several times. This damaged our economy greatly. So we have many problems in the industrial and agricultural sectors, as well as other areas. We will work on solving these problems.

RT: How is your experience in the security services useful for the successful implementation of the functions of the head of state?

LT: I was part of the security services for many years. We worked in co-operation with other law enforcement agencies. Through this cooperation I learned how other structures function – the ministry of internal affairs, the Prosecutor's office, etc. So I have experience in this area. Also working for the security services I traveled all over South Ossetia, and know basically all people in the republic. So my expertise will be very useful.

RT: The election you won was not the first attempt to elect a president in South Ossetia. The previous election ended in scandal, what is your version of those events, what went wrong?

LT: I guess you are talking about the election that was supposed to take place last November. It did take place, but there were political and legal incidents that made the vote illegitimate. The Supreme Court invalidated the results of that election. So we failed to elect a president at the time. I think that we could revisit this issue later and figure out why the election was invalidated.

RT: Even today South Ossetia is an independent state recognized by only a few countries. Aren’t you fearful that you'll repeat the fate of the republic of Northern Cyprus which has for a few decades now settled into a state of isolation from the rest of the international community?

LT: We are not frightened by the Northern Cyprus precedent, because in the first three years of its independence South Ossetia was recognized by several countries, and first of all by such a great state as Russia. We are grateful to Russia for it. Russia has always been the first one to come to our rescue. I think that the countries that recognized our independence will be followed by others. We will try to create a certain image of our republic, so that other countries may get to know South Ossetia better. And let's hope that we will not share Northern Cyprus's destiny.

RT: On election day you spoke about your dream to unite South Ossetia with the North, which as we know is a member of the Russian Federation. How do you foresee this happening?

LT: It is not just my dream, it is the dream of our people. We have had this dream for a century. Today we are an independent state. But we have this dream for our people to reunite. We have been split into two parts. One part lives in North Ossetia, the other part is in South Ossetia. So we held a referendum in 1992, where we asked one question – do we want to become part of Russia? Our people answered yes to this question – over 99% did. So we still have this issue, and this problem cannot be solved in a day. We will work together with North Ossetia towards reuniting our people. And this is the dream that I shared before.

RT: So there is such possibility?

LT: Yes, there is a possibility, of course.

RT: How will the relationship between south Ossetia and Georgia develop? They still see the republic as a part of their territory and did not even recognize the legitimacy of the presidential election here.

LT: It is a mistake on Georgia’s part not to recognize the political process in South Ossetia as legitimate. That goes for the presidential election as well. I believe Georgia should recognize our republic as an independent state. The first thing Georgia needs to do, however, is to compensate for the damage it has been dealing to us since 1989. Georgia has attempted to start a war with South Ossetia several times since then, practically destroying it as a result. Georgia has not paid a penny to compensate for that damage. They are obliged to compensate for the damage they have inflicted. Thus, our future relations with Georgia are subject to negotiation. You probably know that negotiations on that are underway in Geneva.

RT: In your pre-election statements you talked about "restoring order" in the country. What do you mean by that and what can we expect from this?

LT: Yes, the rule of law in South Ossetia was a priority in my electoral program. How shall we restore order in the country? Through rule of law. We will need to reorganize the law enforcement agencies to make that happen. The law should be above all and everyone should obey it. We will bring order through law.

RT: I would like to know how your relationship with Russia will be formed? Political recognition is a key issue, but what is the role of Russia in the further development of your country both politically and economically?

LT: Russia, out neighbor in the north, was always the first country to come to our aid. The events of August 2008 are an example of that. Georgia attacked South Ossetia in an operation they had code named “clear field”. If Russia had not interfered to save its citizens, we would have suffered extensive damage. We will build up our relations with Russia based on the principles defined by our own people. We will forever be with Russia. The president and the government of the people’s trust that we will create will work to integrate into Russia’s infrastructure and cooperate with it politically, economically and in the areas of defense and arms trade.

RT: How do you assess the situation with Russian tourists to Georgia, who were arrested for visiting South Ossetia and Abkhazia? What effect will the Georgian law have on "occupied territories"?

LT: According to my information, this has happened on several occasions. I think it does not do credit to the Georgian authorities as it is a violation of human rights. The Georgian authorities seized the opportunity to detain people on the sole grounds that they were on Georgia’s territory. It is not the only case of human rights violations in Georgia, you can observe them quite frequently in that state, I know that from my own experience.

RT: An important vector for the development of the country is to attract inward investment. Who is interested in this?

LT: South Ossetia does indeed need investment. That applies both to industry and agriculture, as well as the republic's infrastructure. It is in the best interests of the people of Ossetia, and also naturally not in the least of the investors' themselves. We're going to create a relevant legal framework that would attract investment into South Ossetia's economy. I believe that investors would be interested to take advantage of it and work here.

RT: Did you ever imagine you would become president of independent South Ossetia?

LT: I've been approached with requests to become a presidential candidate since 2001. This year however, the circles close to me, including the intellectual circles and my friends have undertaken a great effort to have me agree to run for president, because our republic is facing now a great number of tasks, and I think that I and the team I'm planning to create will be able to deal with these tasks. I've never wanted to become president for the sake of being one. It's a job with a high level of responsibility, and I'll do my best to deliver.

RT: Which politicians have inspired you in your political career? Who do you look up to?

LT: There are many politicians in history that set a good example to follow. The most recent example is set by Vladimir Putin who's been elected to be Russia's next president. As we all know, Vladimir Putin and his team succeeded in driving Russia out of a deep political and economic crisis that happened a few years ago – that's why he is the politician I'm trying to look up to.

RT: Where do you see South Ossetia in 2, 5 or 10 years from now? What will it be like?

LT: In two-, or perhaps three- or five-year's time I see South Ossetia as a prosperous state where people will feel at ease to go to for a vacation and enjoy their stay here as people do in the civilized Western world. This is the goal we shall work hard to achieve guided by the example of the leading developed countries.

RT: Thank you very much.

LT: Thank you very much, and many thanks to your team for coming to work here with us in South Ossetia. You're cordially welcome here any time. Bye-bye.