An emergency session of the Joint Control Commission (JCC, overseeing the ceasefire in South Ossetia) was held on October 24-25 in Moscow. Convened ostensibly to overcome tensions in the wake of the September 20 demonstration of force by Russian-assisted Ossetian troops, the Moscow meeting merely confirmed the JCC’s role in freezing the conflict-resolution process. During and after the meeting, Georgia’s state minister for conflict-resolution and representative to the JCC, Giorgi Khaindrava, called for a thorough overhaul of the JCC and of the Russian-dominated “peacekeeping” operation.
Khaindrava’s diagnosis and proposals dovetail with the Georgian parliament’s recently adopted resolution on reforming or terminating the “peacekeeping” and negotiating formats that merely freeze the resolution of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts permanently (see EDM, October 6, 21). Since 1992 the JCC has consisted of Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, Russia’s republic of North Ossetia, and the OSCE Mission — a format that isolates Georgia and excludes the West. In 2004 and 2005 thus far, no fewer than 15 protocols on demilitarizing South Ossetia have been signed within the framework of the JCC. Instead of demilitarization, however, “We have ended up with unprecedented militarization” of South Ossetia by Russia, Khaindrava noted; and “everyone knows perfectly well that the arms come from Russia through the Roki tunnel.” He reminded the OSCE Mission of its unfulfilled mandate to monitor (alongside peacekeeping troops) the entire “zone of conflict” including the Roki tunnel.
The OSCE Mission, however, prefers to interpret that mandate in a way that excludes the Roki tunnel and a large part of South Ossetia from the monitored zone. This situation poses security problems not only for Georgia but for Russia as well. It was from that unmonitored zone and through the Roki tunnel that cars with South Ossetian license plates carried arms and gunmen for the attack in Beslan a year ago. In his remarks, Khaindrava recalled this incident as evidence that the JCC and “peacekeeping” operations are parts of the problem, not the solution.
The Georgian envoy also recalled the JCC’s passivity and the indifference Russian “peacekeepers” showed toward the September 20 demonstration of force in Tskhinvali, where “heavy armaments and illegal armed formations were brought in, smartly outfitted young men with assault rifles, submachine guns, and grenade launchers marching around, accompanied by armored vehicles, parading ostentatiously before the eyes of the whole world.” This, Khaindrava concluded, is “evidence that the [existing] peacekeeping operation is untenable.”
In a similar case in June 2004, the JCC, Russian “peacekeepers,” and OSCE Mission all turned a blind eye to a massive rally of gunmen from Russia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria in Tskhinvali’s central square, followed by joint exercise of those paramilitaries with South and North Ossetian troops in Java (just outside the zone that the OSCE chooses to monitor). Although Russian television networks amply covered that operation to highlight support for the secessionist authorities, the OSCE Mission (which has an office in Tskhinvali’s center) claimed that its monitors had not seen the rally and the exercises, and that its mandate does not include commenting on television footage. Over the past 18 months, a total of 16 military exercises have been carried out in the “zone of conflict” by Ossetian troops with Russian instructors, Khaindrava noted.
In fairness to the OSCE, Khaindrava pointed out that the Russian and Ossetian sides do not allow the organization’s monitors into large parts of the conflict zone, that OSCE representatives are being constantly harassed in Tskhinvali, and the organization itself is being largely ignored in the JCC’s unbalanced format. Thus, he announced, Georgia will henceforth insist on changing the peacekeeping and JCC formats.
In terms of peacekeeping, the simultaneous involvement of a Russian and a North Ossetian battalion is “total nonsense, as if Russia had more than one army and as if North Ossetia were a subject of international law,” Khaindrava noted. Georgia calls for reducing Russia’s participation to one battalion, alongside one Georgian battalion, pending internationalization of the peacekeeping operation. In the JCC, Georgia calls for giving the OSCE full voting rights and for inclusion of the European Union and the United States also with voting rights in an overhauled negotiating format. In both bodies, Tbilisi calls for demilitarization of South Ossetia as the most urgent priority.
Moscow’s declared role as mediator in the negotiations is also “untenable,” particularly after Russia has appointed its own officials to key posts in Tskhinvali: Khaindrava cited “prime minister” Yuri Morozov, “defense minister” Lt.-General Anatoly Barankevich, and Security Service chief Anatoly Yarovoy, among other officials seconded from Russia and mostly affiliated with intelligence services.
The envoy’s remarks indicate that Tbilisi is at long last beginning to build an effective case for reforming or terminating the “peacekeeping” and negotiating formats, in keeping with the recently adopted parliamentary resolution, and in consultation with friendly chancelleries.
(Interfax, Ekho Moskvy, RIA, Imedi Television, October 24-25)