Georgia has proposed an OSCE-hosted international conference that would institute genuine peacekeeping and negotiating mechanisms regarding South Ossetia. The process, once launched, would ultimately work out a definitive political solution to the South Ossetia conflict. OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office, Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Solomon Passy, has offered to host such a conference in Sofia.
Hopes to convene the conference in September have not materialized. The conference must be held within the next few weeks for its results to be promulgated at the OSCE’s year-end conference, scheduled for early December, also in Sofia. For now, Russian stonewalling throws into question the holding of the conference as well as the value of its results, if ultimately held on Russian terms.
The existing structure for peacekeeping and negotiation, imposed by Russia in 1992-94, is programmed for political manipulation of the conflict, rather than genuine peacekeeping. Instead of facilitating a political solution, it only aids Russia’s de facto absorption of South Ossetia. The peacekeeping operation answers none of the internationally accepted, UN-required basic criteria. It has no international mandate and no international participation; is dominated by forces from Russia, a neighboring country with a vested interest in the outcome; its Russian command is openly biased; and its composition is heavily unbalanced. One Georgian battalion faces a far better armed Russian battalion and an Ossetian battalion that form a single force, in which Ossetian personnel are Russian citizens, including many from North Ossetia.
The political framework, in which terms of settlement have tentatively been broached, is just as lopsided: it includes Georgia, South Ossetia, Russia, North Ossetia, and the OSCE within which Russia wields blocking powers. Georgia and South Ossetia are treated (despite international law) as co-equal parties, Russia has the status of mediator, and the OSCE is relegated to the same status as North Ossetia: “participant.” This “five-sided” format — similar to that imposed on Moldova — is designed to isolate Georgia and to exclude the West. The OSCE’s leadership hosted annual meetings in this format from 2000 to 2003. Georgia’s then-president, Eduard Shevardnadze, put up with this exercise, even after it became farcical. Continuing with it in 2004 would only signal a retreat from the goal of internationalizing the format.
Moldova seems to have understood this when it exited in July from its “five-sided” trap, calling for internationalization of the format. It is a measure of Russia’s detailed control over the process that it has forced the OSCE to discontinue its practice of appointing a junior Moldovan diplomat on the staff of OSCE’s Georgia mission and a Georgian on the staff of OSCE’s Moldova mission. Clearly, OSCE participation is no substitute for internationalization of the format.
The conference that the OSCE’s Chairmanship has offered to host would only be useful if it marks a clean break with the past. Another meeting like those hosted by previous chairmanships from 2000 to 2003 would only cement a pattern that should be broken. Those meetings had at least the saving grace of being held in obscurity at relatively low levels. A higher-profile meeting in Sofia in that same format would inadvertently confer on it a semblance of international legitimacy and invite its perpetuation.
Georgia’s ideas, proposed in the OSCE’s Permanent Council in July, and fleshed out in the same forum as well as in bilateral contacts in August, has two main pillars. First, Georgia seeks a ministerial- or higher-level conference, under aegis of the OSCE and the UN, with participation by Russia, the European Union, United States, and possibly other international actors.
Next, the agenda for this conference would include: South Ossetia’s demilitarization (defined as removal of all forces other than peacekeeping troops); non-resumption of hostilities and security of the population; broadening the OSCE’s monitoring operation to cover all South Ossetia (not just the small security zone around Tskhinvali); EU-led border management and customs control on the Ossetian sector of the Georgia-Russia border, including the critical exit from the Roki tunnel; options for internationalizing the peacekeeping operation; and establishing an international format for political negotiations.
Georgia’s suggestions for internationalizing the peacekeeping operation include: adding troops from other countries to the Russian contingent; initiating a UN-authorized, EU-led peacekeeping operation; or an OSCE-mandated international operation. The latter two options would include Russian troops as well.
These steps, if taken at the proposed Sofia conference, would lead to the follow-up stage: an international format for negotiating South Ossetia’s political status and internationally assisted economic reconstruction.