Interviewed in the October 17 issue of the Kyiv daily Den, Georgia’s National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili underscores a point that many in Russia and some in international diplomatic chancelleries seem disinclined to acknowledge openly: Georgia has succeeded in “de-freezing” the conflict-settlement processes regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “It should be clear to everyone by now that it would be impossible to ‘freeze’ them again. Georgia’s political leadership would not accept that.”
The Georgian parliament made a major contribution to that success through its resolution, the draft of which (see EDM, October 6) was adopted on October 11 by the legislature in close consultation with the presidency. As President Mikheil Saakashvili pointed out during the preparation of the document, Russian policy for more than a decade allowed the conflicts to smolder while “freezing” only the negotiating processes; and Georgia must now seek to de-freeze the negotiations, not the conflicts.
The adopted resolution gives Russia’s “peacekeeping” and “mediating” performance a “highly negative assessment” for blocking all efforts toward settlement based on internationally recognized norms and democratic principles. It zeroes in on the incompatibility between Moscow’s official role of peacekeeper and mediator and its unofficial role as a party to the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And it summarizes the track record of Russian-controlled peacekeeping operations and negotiating formats: strengthening the secessionist authorities, over militarizing those enclaves, annexing them de facto to Russia, encouraging rampant criminal activities there with spillover effects region-wide, and undermining international law, stability, and security through these activities.
In order to achieve real, rapid progress toward peaceful political settlements based on “full rights and freedoms for all residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and protection of their identity within a united Georgia,” the Georgian parliament instructs the government urgently to raise with Russia and international organizations the issue of changing the peacekeeping and negotiating formats. The government shall report back by February 10 regarding South Ossetia and by July 1 regarding Abkhazia. If the situation continues to warrant a negative assessment and no progress is witnessed, the parliament shall demand the termination of Russian “peacekeeping” operations in South Ossetia by February 15 and in Abkhazia by July 15, and the Georgian government shall undertake measures for the rapid withdrawal of those Russian troops.
Following the resolution’s adoption, its co-author Giga Bokeria declared that Tbilisi is thereby offering Moscow another chance to correct its policy, in accordance with the calendar as stipulated. Should Moscow fail to take up that chance, Tbilisi would then classify Russia’s “peacekeeping” troops as “occupation troops” and demand their removal in accordance with international law (Rustavi-2, October 12).
The Russian government and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities are now at pains to find or invent seemingly legal excuses for keeping those troops in place. They resort to three arguments: the cease-fire agreements regarding South Ossetia (1992) and Abkhazia (1994), the indirect involvement of some international organizations with the existing formats, and protection of the rights of Russia’s citizens in the two territories (Interfax, Itar-Tass, Russian Television Channel One, October 12-17).
The first argument claims that the “peacekeeping” operations may not be changed, let alone terminated, without the consent of South Ossetian and Abkhaz authorities. This argument has no legal basis, however, because the 1992 and 1994 ceasefire agreements pertained to military issues (not political, let alone legal), the two secessionist authorities have no standing in international law, and Georgia at all times retained the full sovereign right to terminate Russia’s “peacekeeping” operations on what is internationally recognized Georgian territory in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The second counter-argument insists that the United Nations and the OSCE have over the years endorsed in one form of another the Russian “peacekeeping” operations. This argument is factually correct and reflects poorly on the effectiveness and integrity of those two organizations. Moscow has routinely managed to insert praise for its “peacekeeping” in UN Security Council resolutions regarding Abkhazia; but those resolutions only pertained to the mandate of UN observers there. In South Ossetia, the OSCE collaborates with the Russian “peacekeeping” and the Russian-dominated Joint Control Commission (JCC) in return for a symbolic OSCE seat at the JCC table. The UN and OSCE have over the years developed a bureaucratic-institutional stake in the continuation of the existing arrangements, and may content themselves with cosmetic changes. But neither of these organizations has ever legalized or mandated Russian “peacekeeping” and they have no plans to do so. In Abkhazia, the Russian side claims that its troops are mandated by the CIS. However, the CIS lacks the authority to mandate peacekeeping operations; and within the CIS itself, it was never clear just who and on what authority approved the routine extensions of the Russian troops’ mandate in Abkhazia.
Moscow’s claim to a right of military protection of its citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia also lacks legal standing, mainly because the granting of Russian citizenship to residents of those territories is a unilateral, de facto measure in territories where Georgia is the internationally recognized sovereign. Thus, by February and July, the Russian government will have no valid excuse for keeping its troops in the two territories, except as occupation troops — unless it agrees to change the peacekeeping and negotiating formats by then.