Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 167

The OSCE has completed its own inquiry into the August 6 missile drop on Georgia by Russian aircraft intruding via South Ossetia (see EDM, August 8, 13, 14, 16). Moscow is pleased with the OSCE’s response: “We have no objection to this assessment by the OSCE. The assessment does not cast doubt on our conviction that the missile incident was a provocation by those forces in Georgia who are interested in destabilizing the situation in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict zone,” Russia’s ambassador to the OSCE, Alexei Borodavkin, told the OSCE Permanent Council’s September 6 session. Based on the OSCE’s inquiry, Borodavkin declared Russia to be fully exonerated and the “case closed” (Rossiiskaya gazeta, September 7).

The organization’s chairman-in-office, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos, had in mid-August assigned Croatian former foreign minister Miomir Zuzul to inquire into the missile incident. Since the organization lacks the technical means or competent staff for such an investigation, Zuzul’s mission could only be a political exercise to show that the OSCE can paper over differences between Russia and other countries and move on with business as usual.

This approach is also in tune with the Spanish chairmanship’s earlier-stated commitment to prioritize relations with Russia within the organization. Moreover, OSCE chairmanships in recent years tend to become especially solicitous of Russia around the month of September, when they approach the end of their annual mandate and grow apprehensive about Russian political or budgetary vetoes at the year-end conference.

Zuzul traveled to Moscow and Tbilisi and studied the reports of the three expert investigations into the missile incident: by a U.S.-Swedish-Lithuanian-Latvian team (report issued on August 14/15), a British-Polish-Estonian team (report issued on August 21), and a Russian team (reporting in the third week of August). Faced with the conflicting reports, Zuzul chose to embrace agnosticism on the organization’s behalf: “It was extremely difficult to know what actually happened,” he declared in the OSCE Permanent Council’s September 6 session and to the media on the sidelines. The OSCE’s only certainty is, “There was an incident that heightened tensions between the two sides and posed dangers of destabilization” (Civil Georgia, RFE/RL, September 6, 7; The Messenger, Izvestiya, September 10).

Zuzul and other chairmanship representatives seem to be taking cover behind redundant figures of speech: “Things are not black and white” (Moratinos’ official spokesman Manuel Cacho); “The OSCE’s role is not that of a prosecutor or judge” (Zuzul). Such alibis help the organization to avoid trouble with Moscow (Civil Georgia, September 5-7). Endorsed by the chairmanship, Zuzul’s report not only stopped short of naming the country from which the aircraft had intruded into Georgia, but gave Moscow the opportunity to declare that the OSCE did not contradict Moscow’s claim that Georgia itself had staged the missile incident. In the Permanent Council’s session, Borodavkin denounced Georgia for “this provocation, which attempted to discredit Russia’s role in the existing formats of negotiations and peacekeeping in South Ossetia” (Interfax, September 7),

The report proposes that the OSCE should appoint an official specially tasked to address such incidents promptly; that the organization should play some role in air-traffic monitoring; and that an OSCE mechanism is needed for prevention of and rapid response to incidents of this type in the future.

Such proposals are insolvent from the start, given the OSCE’s lack of capabilities and political dependence on Russia’s veto power. However, these proposals seem to reflect the organization’s quest for projects to keep afloat generally and hope to become a security actor in particular. The OSCE probably forfeited that chance conclusively in 2005, also in Georgia, by terminating the Border Monitoring Operation without murmur when Russia vetoed it. The organization’s response to the missile incident seems to corroborate that pattern of conduct. Bearing these experiences in mind, the OSCE can hardly be entrusted with security or peacekeeping operations.

In the Permanent Council’s meeting, U.S. Ambassador Julie Finley dismissed Russia’s claim that Georgia had itself staged the missile drop. In remarks broadcast by Georgian television, Finley cited the non-Russian experts’ findings that military aircraft from Russia had violated Georgia’s air space (Rustavi-2 TV, September 6). The European Union’s collective statement — a lowest-common-denominator as is often the case; perhaps more so under the current Portuguese presidency — expressed serious concern over the “dangerous and alarming incident” but stopped short of assigning any responsibility. It urged the “OSCE community” to take political and diplomatic measures to prevent similar incidents in the future — a position that seems to ignore the OSCE’s fundamental dilemma: It can either function as a “community” in consensus with Russia and remain irrelevant, or give up on the consensus with Russia and risk ceasing to function at all.

The OSCE’s response essentially resembles that of the United Nations to the April 11 Russian air raid in Georgia’s Kodori Gorge. The UN-led investigation also avoided assigning any responsibility and had to adjust its findings to the political fact of Russia’s veto power. At least, the UN-led investigation was an elaborate one conducted by experts, unlike the OSCE’s purely political move. The lesson from both cases is that the UN and OSCE are ill-suited for deterring future incidents of this type.

There is no substitute to providing Georgia with modern radar capabilities through the assistance of NATO member countries. Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Gela Bezhuashvili discussed this issue with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on September 4 in Brussels. With Georgia preparing to increase dramatically its troop contribution to NATO operations in Afghanistan — and, in parallel, support U.S. operations in Iraq — the alliance can in turn plug Georgia into NATO’s Air Situation Data Exchange System without delay. De Hoop Scheffer’s upcoming visit to Georgia can see an announcement to that effect.