Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 7

Georgia’s president and parliament are under pressure from Russia to prolong the mandate of “CIS peacekeeping troops” in Abkhazia that expired on December 31. Those troops are now without even the semblance of any legal status. And even when they had it, it was at best murky. Governed by a Russian-Georgian-Abkhaz document–signed in 1994 by Georgia under duress–it had no validity in international law. The CIS itself, formal sponsor of these purely Russian troops, is not recognized internationally as a legal entity.

On January 4 in Tbilisi, CIS Executive Secretary Yury Yarov–also a Russian government official–asked President Eduard Shevardnadze insistently to act within a week’s time to prolong the mandate. Russia wants Georgia to appeal to the CIS to license the continuation of the “peacekeeping operation.” The goal is not only to preserve a legal fig leaf–that is, a semblance of Georgian consent–but also to maintain the pretense that the CIS authorizes and runs peacekeeping operations. For Moscow, such decisions taken at the CIS level have the value of a precedent, usable in the quest for recognition of the CIS as a regional security organization entitled to run peacekeeping operations. That Russian quest has remained fruitless thus far, but Russian diplomacy continues pursuing it at the UN and elsewhere.

Georgia has declined to prolong the mandate because the troops have, for seven years, failed to live up to its terms. Those include ensuring the safe return to Abkhazia of its Georgian residents, who were forced to flee in 1993 by the Russian-supported Abkhaz troops, which at the time included Russian-armed Chechens. The Georgians constituted 45 percent of Abkhazia’s population at the time. The ethnic cleansing left the Abkhaz, some 17 percent of the same population, in full control as willing hosts of Russian troops and bases.

Tbilisi wants to internationalize the peacekeeping contingent by adding non-Russian troops from outside the CIS. Moscow wants to add a token number of troops from CIS countries and to spread the financial costs, and rejects any Western troop contribution (though it is willing to accept Western financing via the UN for this nominally CIS operation). Russia, moreover, objects to using peacekeeping troops to ensure the Georgian refugees’ return to Abkhazia. For their part, the Abkhaz authorities insist on continuing the “peacekeeping” operation in its present form. Moscow cites its Abkhaz proteges’ position to justify its own.

Until the operation can be internationalized, most Georgian officials would reluctantly accept continuing it informally without prolonging the mandate. The operation had functioned on such a basis for eight months in 1998. A Georgian demarche to Russia and the CIS to prolong the mandate would be self-defeating and politically damaging (Interfax, January 4, 9; Georgian Television, Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, January 4, 6, 8).