Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 227

Even in its failure, the OSCE year-end conference on December 4-5 in Brussels managed to highlight the fact that Russia’s conflict undertakings in Georgia and Moldova constitute the main problem of European security at present. This fact had been implicitly understood for some time, but the Brussels ministerial conference turned that understanding into an explicit one. The addresses by the Georgian and Moldovan ministers of foreign affairs, Gela Bezhuashvili and Andrei Stratan, defined the problem in those terms — convincingly for the great majority of participant countries, and almost isolating Russia. The U.S. address, delivered by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, framed the issue in the same way:

“Two members of our Organization, in particular, are under tremendous pressure. In Moldova and Georgia, protracted conflicts and external threats impede the full development of states, creating unsecured borders, undermining their sovereignty,” Burns declared. “As long as these countries remain torn from within, and open support for separatist regimes continues from without…we must give Georgia and Moldova our full support. We call for resumption of Russian military withdrawal and complete fulfillment of Russia’s remaining Istanbul Commitments regarding Moldova and Georgia. [We call] to refrain from fomenting instability in neighboring states and reject the idea that a state may maintain a military presence in another state against the will of that state. [We call] to hold accountable any state that infringes on these principles.”

Bezhuashvili summed up the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia: “Instead of demilitarization, foreign-backed heavy rearmament; instead of improved security and human rights, the power of organized crime and contraband are growing. The existing formats for peacekeeping and negotiations are deeply biased, contributing to creeping annexation of territories of Georgia.” In this situation, Bezhuashvili observed, the oft-used term “status quo” is a misnomer, as the situation is in fact steadily deteriorating. “Russia has lost credibility as an honest broker — it does not form a bridge, but a wall preventing a direct dialogue” by Tbilisi with the Abkhaz and South Ossetians.

Georgia called again at this conference for impartial international missions, mainly consisting of police, to replace the existing “peacekeeping” operations and for bilateral dialogues with the Abkhaz and South Ossetians, under United Nations and OSCE aegis, respectively, to discuss broad autonomy for those two areas in Georgia. The OSCE’s credibility, Bezhuashvili warned, will be severely diminished if decisions adopted by consensus are not implemented and participant states fail to comply with the principles enshrined in the organization’s documents.

Similarly, Moldova’s Stratan called for the earliest transformation of the (Russian) “peacekeeping” force, replacing it with a new multinational mission of observers, both military and civilian, under an international mandate. Only such a transformation would allow Moldova to ratify the adapted CFE treaty, the Moldovan address reaffirmed, in tune with Georgia’s position. Stratan called for a full, early, and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces in accordance with the 1999 Istanbul Commitments.

At this conference, Moldova invoked its neutrality (under the country’s 1993 constitution) in unusually strong terms as an argument for the removal of Russian forces. “As a neutral country,” Stratan insisted, Moldova “wants in the nearest future to be free of any form of foreign military or quasi-military presence. Moldova’s people expect Russia to comply with Moldova’s constitutional choice — the status of neutrality.”

An all-but-isolated Russia blocked the OSCE’s draft regional declarations on the conflicts in South Ossetia and Transnistria (the Abkhazia problem is supposedly a UN responsibility). The thwarted documents were calling for demilitarization of both areas, internationalization of peacekeeping, curbing trans-border and other forms of organized crime, economic reconstruction, and internationally assisted negotiations to establish the political status of South Ossetia and Transnistria within Georgia and Moldova, respectively.

The OSCE’s outgoing chairman-in-office, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel de Gucht, issued the Chair’s Perception Statement — the usual way for the annual chairmanship to conclude a year-end conference when consensus is lacking. As Russia had withheld its consent on the documents, de Gucht expressed his perception of the state of implementation of Russia’s Istanbul Commitments:

“Taking note of the fact that, as regards Moldova, no progress could be registered in 2006, most ministers call on the Russian Federation and parties concerned to allow the process of withdrawal of ammunition and related military personnel to resume expeditiously. Ministers reaffirm their shared determination to promote the entry into force of the adapted CFE Treaty.”

This wording in the Perception Statement, identical to that in de Gucht’s draft for a conference declaration, whittles down the outstanding Istanbul Commitments almost to the point of erasing them (see EDM, November 27). The Perception Statement also seems to miss the fact that an overwhelming majority of the heads of delegations in their speeches actually called for the withdrawal of Russian forces. NATO and the European Union took this position collectively as well as in the member countries’ national statements. Not a single national statement was found that would have confined the goal to a withdrawal of ammunition and related personnel.

(Documents of the OSCE’s year-end conference, December 5, 2006)