Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 85

Despite the CIS cover, this operation has been a purely Russian one from 1994 to the present. Since 2002 CIS meetings have abandoned even the pretense of discussing this operation, let alone prolonging its “mandate.” Nor did Moscow seek CIS member countries’ approval of the CIS-labeled Russian troop deployment since April 29. Similarly, Moscow had not bothered to consult with CIS member countries last month when it officially removed the 1996 CIS economic restrictions on Abkhazia. Russia had hardly ever observed those CIS restrictions in practice.

The CIS in any case is not authorized to mandate peacekeeping operations. Moscow has not consulted with any CIS country before its latest deployment of Russian troops under the CIS label. No CIS country would willingly approve Russia’s move. CIS member Ukraine has often declared its availability to participate in an internationally mandated, genuine peacekeeping operation under UN or other auspices in Abkhazia, Georgia, by agreement with the Georgian government. On April 30, reacting to the Russian troop deployment, Presidents Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia issued a joint statement according to which “Ukraine is ready to consider its participation in the peacekeeping operation together with other interested parties” (Georgian and Ukrainian press releases, April 30, May 1).

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) routinely pays a compliment to this “CIS collective peacekeeping operation” in Security Council resolutions on prolonging the UNOMIG mandate at six-month intervals. The U.S. State Department and other Western chancelleries go along with this semiannual travesty. But this does not in any way imply an authorization or mandate-giving decision for the CIS/Russian operation. It is a routine UN-style political and semantic genuflection, demanded by Moscow and inserted as an incidental clause in the resolutions on UNOMIG.

That UN group, in place since 1994 and currently comprised of 133 unarmed military observers, is essentially a passive bystander. Wholly dependent on the Russian troops for its own safety and movements, and poorly equipped for detecting Russian military activities in the area, UNOMIG has also become politically dependent on Russian consent to its presence. Whenever Georgia warns that it may exercise its right to terminate the Russian operation, Moscow threatens to veto the prolongation of UNOMIG’s mandate.

The Russian operation breaches the UN’s own fundamental norms regarding the conduct of peacekeeping operations. Such operations require consent by the sovereign state on the territory of which they are deployed. Such consent must involve not only acceptance of the operation as such, but also the parameters of its implementation. Neighboring countries and countries with a direct interest or stake in the given conflict may not be troop contributors to the peacekeeping operation. Such operations are by definition international, not a monopoly of any one country. Peacekeeping operations abide by the principles of inviolability of borders and non-interference in internal affairs of the country in which they are deployed.

Moreover, the Russian military backed the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from Abkhazia in 1994 and refused in subsequent years to assist in the safe return of the refugees to their homes. This is also a breach of peacekeeping norms. International peacekeeping troops are authorized as a rule to carry light weapons, whereas Russian troops in Abkhazia are armed with heavy combat weapons and maintain uninspected arms stockpiles, shared with their Abkhaz proxy forces.

Peacekeeping is not the sole excuse for Russia’s military presence in Georgia. Moscow increasingly cites “protection of Russia’s citizens” as a further pretext. Having mass-distributed Russian passports to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian government claims a right of intrusive protection, including military presence in the two areas. On April 25 the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs special envoy for negotiations on conflicts, Valery Kenyaykin, warned of a possible deployment of additional troops into Abkhazia citing Russia’s “obligation to intervene in defense of Russia’s citizens” (Interfax, Itar-Tass, RIA Novosti, April 25). Once the deployment was under way, Russia’s Ambassador in Tbilisi, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, claimed, “The Russian constitution stipulates protecting Russian citizens wherever they may be — whether in Abkhazia, Zanzibar, Antarctica, wherever” (Russia Today, May 1).

In practice, Russian “peacekeepers” are a party to the conflict, as is Russia itself. What was described in 1992and 1993 as a Georgian-Abkhaz ethnic conflict has developed into a Russia-Georgia conflict since 1993-1994, given Russia’s military intervention and its subsequent, overt support for Abkhaz secessionist authorities.

Georgia has considered several times in recent years the possibility of exercising its sovereign right to declare this “peacekeeping” operation illegal and demand its termination. Anxious Western governments advised Tbilisi each time to refrain from doing so. But they have failed to offer any alternative options. Georgia followed the advice of its Western partners each time, though never ceasing to call for the transformation of Russian “peacekeeping” into genuine international peacekeeping. It seems that Georgia has been very poorly rewarded for its forbearance.