Commentary: Policy Recommendations For A Political Solution In Georgia’s Region Of South Ossetia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 57

The following recommendations emerged from a Jamestown Foundation event featuring Senior Jamestown Fellow Vladimir Socor, “The Crisis in South Ossetia: A Test of Russia’s Conduct,” held in Washington, DC on July 14, 2004.

Tactical policy recommendations:

1. Support Georgia’s goal, within the ongoing discussions with Russia, to establish the principle that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are parts of Georgia, and the respective border sectors constitute the Russia-Georgia border. These points need to be enshrined at this stage as a basis to further negotiations.

2. Encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin to distance himself from actual or putative hardliners who are in charge of policy toward Georgia. To that end, and in view of Putin’s successful recentralization of decision-making, hold him politically accountable for rogue moves and pressure tactics against Georgia by Russian officials at various hierarchical levels.

3. Curb the contraband with commercial goods and arms from Russia into Georgia via Roki Tunnel, the Georgian end of which is controlled by Russian and South Ossetian troops. That control needs to be broadened and civilianized, e.g. by establishing joint control involving Georgian and international customs and police personnel, alongside Russian and Ossetian personnel. Such joint control can be established either at the Georgian end of the tunnel, or reciprocally at both ends.

4. Demand that Russia interdict the passage of volunteers and weapons to South Ossetia and other areas of concern. The West failed to react when Russia allowed hundreds of Abkhaz, Russian Cossack, and Trans-Dniester volunteers with arms to reach South Ossetia via the Russian North Caucasus this month. By looking the other way — particularly amid international efforts to curb terrorism and illicit arms trafficking — the West sent the wrong signal to Moscow.

5. Identify publicly the violations of Georgian airspace, and call for their cessation.

6. Create international checks on Russia’s “peacekeeping” force, in response to evidence of its involvement in gun-running for South Ossetian troops and its overall anti-Georgian bias.

Strategic policy recommendations:

1. Acknowledge that no viable solution of the issue is possible with the existing secessionist leadership of Eduard Kokoev, which is closely linked with organized crime and Russia’s military and security services. Apply the “Three D” strategy — Demilitarization, Decriminalization, Democratization — to South Ossetia (as well as to Abkhazia and Trans-Dniester) as the basis to any political solution.

2. Overcome the current monitoring and negotiating frameworks, which consists of Georgia, South Ossetia, Russia, the latter’s North Ossetia, and the OSCE. These frameworks (e.g. the Joint Control Commission, JCC), relics of a bygone era, ensure multiple representation of Russia, isolate Georgia, and exclude the West. The JCC need not be scuttled, but the monitoring and negotiating processes must be transferred to legitimate international frameworks.

3. Abandon the semantic trap that has constrained discussion of the issue since the early 1990s:

a. Russian troops in South Ossetia are not peacekeepers in the internationally accepted sense of that term. Those troops have all along served Moscow’s policy of cementing South Ossetia’s secession.

b. Russia’s official role as mediator is a misnomer; in fact, Russia is a participant in the conflict, with an interest in exploiting it, not solving it.

c. The “Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone” is another misnomer, designed to separate this part of Georgia’s territory from the rest of the country. Georgia’s sovereignty must be acknowledged as overriding South Ossetian or Russian “peacekeepers’ ” prerogatives.

4. Reject any tradeoff whereby Moscow would promise to facilitate conflict resolution in Abkhazia or South Ossetia in return for Georgian consent to prolong Russia’s military presence in the rest of Georgia (Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases). These two sets of issues are separate, and must each be considered on their own terms.

5. Elevate the issues of South Ossetia and Abkhazia near the top of the U.S., EU, and NATO agendas with Russia. It is time to revisit the issue of joint peacekeeping and conflict-settlement efforts, as proposed in the joint communiques of the May 2002 U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia summits.

6. Reinstate and continue the U.S. Train-and-Equip Program for Georgian security troops. The program is vital to U.S. strategic engagement in the region and by the same token to Georgia’s security. That mission is a work in progress. Premature termination can lead to rapid erosion of the results achieved and a shrinking return on the Pentagon’s $64 million investment in this mission. U.S. signals that the program is being ended in deference to Moscow are inadvertently vindicating Moscow’s hardliners.

7. Make clear that Russia’s unilateral conferral of its citizenship on South Ossetia’s residents (as well as those of Abkhazia) is invalid and can not serve as a basis for Russia’s recent claims to intrusive protection of those residents. Protection of their rights under international standards (as distinct from Russian or CIS standards) is the responsibility of Georgia and of international democratic institutions. Acceptance of Russia’s unilateral action can set a dangerous precedent for similar actions elsewhere.

8. Begin in South Ossetia the overdue process of introducing the rule of international law in the South Caucasus, where state borders are being breached by state actions, territories seized, and foreign troops implanted. International law has not operated in the South Caucasus since 1991. Western interests in the region have grown exponentially since then, requiring the region’s stabilization within the framework of international law.