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Ahead of Russian elections, quashed Ossetia vote embarrasses Moscow

The crushing of an apparently legitimate election victory in South Ossetia, a key client state of Moscow, could bring a fresh wave of unwanted attention to Russia's own problematic democracy.

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Nor does outgoing president Eduard Kokoity, a deeply unpopular figure who unsuccessfully tried earlier this year to pressure the republic's legislature into amending the Constitution to grant him a third term of office, and then supported Mr. Bibilov as his anointed successor.

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"The republic's leadership will make no concessions and will not yield to pressure," Mr. Kokoity, who rejects Dzhioyeva's victory, was quoted as saying by the official Russian RIA-Novosti agency Thursday. "I call on everyone to come to their senses and make serous conclusions."

Some Russian commentators have accused Dzhioyeva of fomenting a "colored revolution," such as the anti-Moscow revolts in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan over the past decade, a charge that she calls ridiculous.

She insists that she, like most people in South Ossetia, is a Russian citizen, and would follow a strongly pro-Russian course as president.

"This is about legality," she says. "We are standing for our civil rights, and we will continue to do so."

South Ossetia, whose total population is no more than 50,000, was declared an independent state by Moscow after the 2008 war, but so far only four countries besides Russia – Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the two Pacific island nations of Tuvalu and Nauru – have recognized it.

The little republic survives mainly on subsidies from Moscow. Many experts say outgoing President Kokoity had distributed those funds to favor his own cronies and pet projects. Dzhioyeva ran, and apparently won, on pledges to make the distribution of Russian assistance transparent, and to use it to rebuild infrastructure and housing damaged in the 2008 war.

"Perhaps fresh elections, with the participation of all opposition candidates, are a way out here," says Konstantin Zatulin, director of the Kremlin-funded Institute for the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow.

He says many in Russia are hoping that Mr. Vinokurov, President Medvedev's emissary, will put aside narrow Kremlin interests and strive for impartiality in mediating the dispute.

"The stability of South Ossetia, and the freedom of will of its population, are higher values than support for any particular candidate," Mr. Zatulin says. "For us it's very important that Russia continues to be viewed as an honest broker in the Caucasus region. A lot is at stake." 

RECOMMENDED An in-depth series on Russia's upcoming vote: part 1 on Putinpart 2 on 'managed democracy.'

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