A special session of the OSCE’s Permanent Council in Vienna on July 29 failed to act on Georgia’s proposal to widen the role of the OSCE Mission in South Ossetia. Supported in principle, though in lukewarm tones, by the United States and the European Union, the Georgian proposal was rejected by Russia using the organization’s consensus rules.
Georgia proposed that the Mission-monitored area be enlarged to cover South Ossetia’s entire territory, not just the so-called “Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone.” It also proposed enlarging the Mission’s personnel, primarily the monitors. And it called for South Ossetia’s demilitarization, meaning in essence a ban on illegitimate forces such as armor and artillery supplied to South Ossetia by Russia, or the entry of paramilitary groups via Russia into South Ossetia (as occurred last month).
The uncontrolled South Ossetian sector of the Georgia-Russia border, particularly the Roki Tunnel, poses multiple security risks. Controlled on the Georgian side by Russian and South Ossetian authorities, the border sector and the tunnel are being used for massive contraband, arms, and drugs trafficking, as well as for covert delivery of Russian military supplies to South Ossetia’s separatists. Georgia seeks joint or international control of the Roki Tunnel on the Georgian side of the border, preferably by enlarging the OSCE Mission-monitored area to the border. Georgia made these concerns clear at the July 29 meeting.
Russia’s delegation turned down Georgia’s proposals on grounds that the OSCE Mission’s mandate precludes enlargement of its area of responsibility (an inaccurate claim) and that the Mission’s personnel is already “fully sufficient” (an unexplained assertion). Instead, it called for the OSCE to focus on facilitating a settlement of the conflict (Interfax, July 29). The United States and EU merely suggested that the Permanent Council revisit the Georgian proposals in the autumn.
Western representatives at the Permanent Council unnecessarily weakened their positions by endorsing Russia’s call for strict adherence to the terms of the Joint Control Commission’s July 14-15 Moscow session and communique. That JCC document fully equalized Georgia and South Ossetia; failed to mention Georgian state sovereignty; included formulations enabling Moscow to demand the withdrawal of Georgian anti-smuggling police posts; and ignored the Roki Tunnel issue. The JCC, designed by Moscow a decade ago to isolate Georgia, is overwhelmingly weighted against Tbilisi. Reflexive endorsement of JCC actions by Western diplomacy inadvertently helps perpetuate an antiquated structure programmed for conflict freezing, not settlement.
Encouraged by the outcome in Vienna, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in its July 31 statement dismissed the proposals to widen the OSCE Mission’s role as “obviously unattainable;” noted that Moscow’s position had “on the whole been met with understanding;” accused Georgia of “distorting the facts” and “downloading its own faults on South Ossetia;” and used pejorative quotation marks around the words “Georgia’s new democratic leadership.” That same day, Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov offered to broker a meeting between Georgian and South Ossetian leaders — the familiar tactic of using tensions to place “the sides” on an equal footing. (Interfax, July 31)