Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 214

Insofar as its words still matter (admittedly an increasingly dubious premise), the OSCE seems set to defer to Russia at the year-end meeting in late November in Madrid regarding the post-Soviet unresolved conflicts. The political declaration, drafted by the Spanish chairmanship, reflects Russia’s overall position on those conflicts.

The still-confidential document calls for “achieving outcomes that are satisfactory to all the parties involved” — that is, the legitimate states and the secessionist authorities coequally in each case. It makes the OSCE “reaffirm the validity of all agreed forums and negotiating mechanisms” — that is, the existing ones, fully or largely under Russian control. And, unprecedented for a major OSCE document, it fails to include even a ritual reference to territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. Instead, it vaguely refers to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act with no further specification (Spanish chairmanship draft, November 13).

The chairmanship’s formulations are in line with Russia’s familiar position, as reiterated most recently by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko in the OSCE’s Permanent Council meeting and an accompanying interview: Russia wants the OSCE to “support the existing negotiating and peacekeeping formats” and “take into account the interests and positions of both parties in each conflict” (OSCE Permanent Council meeting, November 8; Itar-Tass, Interfax, November 7, 8).

For their part, countries of the GUAM group — Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova — propose that the OSCE should say in its year-end declaration, “We express our support to international mediation efforts aimed at peaceful settlement of these conflicts on the basis of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and inviolability of internationally recognized borders. [We] call on all states, international and regional organizations to effectively contribute, within their competence, to this process.”

The chairmanship’s draft carefully avoids displaying a sense of institutional urgency about settling the conflicts: “We remain concerned about conflicts…. that have a negative impact on peace and stability.” The GUAM countries, however, feel “deeply concerned about the persistence of the unresolved conflicts, which constitute a major threat to peace and stability.”

Russia’s still unfulfilled 1999 Istanbul commitments to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia will again overshadow the OSCE’s year-end meeting. The Madrid meeting will, however, be different in two respects from previous year-end meetings. First, Russian troops have handed over their bases and installations in Tbilisi, Akhalkalaki, and Batumi to Georgian authorities this year (the last soldiers are scheduled to leave Batumi by December 1). Russia, however, still clings on to the Gudauta base in Georgia. Meanwhile, the Kremlin seems intent to keep its troops in Moldova — whether for the long term or as a bargaining chip for possible trade-offs. The prospect of trade-offs is the other factor that differentiates the upcoming Madrid meeting from previous year-end meetings of the OSCE.

Some influential European NATO allies seek to placate Russia and ratify the 1999-adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) in return for partial, instead of full, Russian compliance with the commitments on troop withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia. Other NATO allies call for maintaining intact the linkage between CFE treaty ratification and Russian complete fulfillment of the Istanbul commitments. To maintain a common allied approach, the United States seeks certain creative ways to facilitate ratification on one side and fulfillment on the other.

Under the 1999 agreements, Russia was scheduled to evacuate the Gudauta base in July 2001. However, a Russian garrison of several hundred, along with arms and ammunition stockpiles and some helicopters, remains stationed at the base, which is situated in nominally Abkhaz-controlled territory. Russia wants Georgian and international approval to hand over Gudauta to Russian “peacekeepers.” Such a solution could legitimize Russia’s presence there.

Georgia seeks an official handover of Gudauta to Georgia in a legally binding document, even if a physical transfer is temporarily unfeasible due to the location of the base in Abkhazia. In addition, Georgia and NATO allies seek to ensure international verification of the Russian troop withdrawal from Gudauta, if and when such withdrawal is announced. The issue of verification is far from settled in its legal, technical, political, and security aspects.

Russia’s 1,500-strong force in Moldova remains the single largest unfulfilled commitment and, thus, obstacle to ratification of the CFE treaty. Some European allies would arbitrarily reinterpret the 1999 Istanbul agreements as exempting Russian “peacekeepers” from the obligation to withdraw from Moldova. The Moldovan government calls for complete, prompt, and internationally supervised withdrawal of Russian troops and the introduction of an international observer mission, predominantly civilian.

The United States increasingly supports such a solution. Earlier this year, Washington favored internationalization of the existing Russian operation, changing it into a temporary operation under international control, with limited Russian participation for a limited period of time. More recently, however — as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer indicated most recently in Congressional testimony — the United States favors a complete civilianization of that operation, under international auspices (Testimony to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, November 5).