PACE’s Reputation is at Stake

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On April 20, 2010 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) David Wilshire met with Boris Chochev, one of the leaders of the Russian occupational regime in Georgia’s Tskhinvali region. The meeting took place in Moscow at the “embassy of the Republic of South Ossetia.” While Wilshire is a British national, he is a member of PACE’s Monitoring Committee and together with his Hungarian counterpart Mátyás Eörsi is preparing the document entitled “The Humanitarian Consequences of the War between Georgia and Russia: Implementation to Resolutions 1633 (2008), 1648 (2009) and 1664 (2009)” for the organization’s spring session on April 26-30.

Wilshire’s meeting with Chochiev without Georgia’s formal consent invoked strong criticism in Tbilisi and Georgia’s ministry of foreign affairs issued a special statement condemning the European diplomat’s “deplorable” move. The ministry’s statement underlined that this is the first time “when an official representative of the international organization holds the meeting in the premises of the ‘embassy’ of the proxy regimes”, and accused Wilshire of violating “the main principles of international law.”

No reputable nation or international organization has ever recognized the independence of “South Ossetia” or Abkhazia – another Georgian province also under Russian occupation. PACE in its previous resolutions unambiguously demanded that the Russian Federation fully respect the August 2008 ceasefire agreement and withdraw its illegal recognition of Georgia’s two sovereign territories.

PACE Resolution 1633 (2008) specifically “condemns the recognition by Russia of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a violation of international law and Council of Europe statutory principles….reaffirms [the Assembly’s] attachment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and calls on Russia to withdraw its recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and respect fully the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, as well as the inviolability of its frontiers.”

Besides, the same resolution as well as PACE’s other documents related to Russia’s invasion of Georgia “call on the Russian authorities to allow observers from both the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to have access to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are under the de facto control of Russia…and to withdraw [the Russian] troops to positions ex ante the conflict.”

Thus the PACE resolution put forward very specific conditions to the Russian Federation. Withdrawal of the Russian troops to the prewar positions, full deployment of European Union and OSCE observers into the Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia and withdrawal by Russia of the recognition of independence of “South Ossetia” and Abkhazia have been named as “minimum conditions for a meaningful dialogue.” Moscow has neglected all of them.

David Wilshire’s disrespect for Georgia’s sovereignty comes at a time when the Kremlin is particularly intensifying its diplomatic maneuvering in the run-up to PACE’s spring session. What Moscow apparently wants to achieve is a milder tone in the new resolution toward its illegal actions in the occupied Georgian lands and a better diplomatic position to further its already unbearably heavy pressure on Tbilisi.

Before the infamous Wilshire-Chochiev meeting took place, Russia’s foreign ministry engaged in several diplomatic talks with European representatives to specifically discuss the “Georgia question” as well as the report Eörsi and Wilshire are preparing for PACE. Foreign Minister Lavrov himself met with Wilshire on April 20 and called on him “to take into consideration the new political and legal realities in the region,” which in Moscow’s diplomatic jargon means recognizing Russia’s sphere of influence to the detriment of Georgia’s sovereignty. On April 16, Lavrov’s deputy Grigory Karasin held a meeting with the French Ambassador in Moscow Jean de Gliniasty and among other topics “Russia’s position on Transcaucasia issues was also discussed.” The same day Karasin spoke by phone to Pierre Morel, the Special Representative of the European Union. The two again discussed “the conditions in Transcaucasia.”

Lavrov plans to participate in PACE’s spring session as “a special guest” on April 29 and, as reported by Russia’s foreign ministry, he will focus on “the necessity of new security structures,” the issues related to the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII and the dangers posed by “attempts to falsify the history.”

Meanwhile, Chairman of Georgian Parliament David Bakradze warned recently that “Europe’s prestige and honor” would be seriously damaged if PACE fails to once again unequivocally demand from Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under international law. The Georgian Parliament has in addition appealed to the international community to recognize Russia as an occupying power in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.

As the Council of Europe’s event is approaching, Russia plans to conduct large-scale military exercises with the participation of Russian aviation in Abkhazia where no European observers are allowed and where Moscow’s actions go totally unchecked.