Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 155

On August 12 in Moscow, following Georgia’s unilateral ceasefire, French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the conditions for Russia to cease hostilities against Georgia. That evening, Medvedev announced that Russia was temporarily ceasing hostilities against Georgia. That same evening Sarkozy flew from Moscow to Tbilisi and presented the Franco-Russian document to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for hurried consideration and quick acceptance.

Saakashvili and Sarkozy did some editing, during which Sarkozy telephoned Medvedev twice from the Georgian presidential headquarters. The French and Georgian presidents made an outline of the document public with a few comments at a joint press conference in Tbilisi early on August 13 (Georgia Public Broadcaster August 13).

The six-point document sets the conditions for a Russian cessation of hostilities. It is meant to open the way for subsequent negotiations toward a political settlement on South Ossetia, where Russia initiated this war against Georgia in early August (see EDM, August 8, and accompanying article in this issue). In essence, Sarkozy’s plan attempts to buy Russian military restraint at the cost of long-term concessions deeply damaging to Georgia.

The plan’s original text is in French, as are the editorial amendments introduced during Sarkozy’s Tbilisi visit. The not-so-hidden traps, in the form of permanent concessions to Russia, are contained in points 5 and 6. The six points are:

1) “No resort to force.”

2) “Permanent cessation of hostilities.”

These two points have, however, already been breached by Russian actions. Sarkozy knew that this could turn out to be the case. In the joint news conference, Medvedev had said that Russia’s ceasefire was “temporary, until a full solution of the problem can be achieved,” and Sarkozy, for his part, added in the joint press conference, “This cease-fire could become permanent if [French Minister of Foreign Affairs] Bernard Kouchner and I convince Georgia to sign this document today.” Translation: Russia can continue the military operations until Georgia accepts the permanent concessions to Russia that the document envisages.

3) “Free access for humanitarian assistance and permission for refugees to return.” During editing in Tbilisi, the Georgians wanted “ensuring the return of refugees,” a wording that would have obligated Moscow. The French-imposed wording, however, leaves the matter up to Russia’s “permission.”

The French interpret this point as applying to South Ossetia only, where the number of refugees is relatively small. The Georgians, however, interpret this point as applying also to Abkhazia, where mass-scale ethnic cleansing was perpetrated and where Russian forces captured Upper Kodori on August 11.

4) “Georgian forces are to return to the places of their regular deployment.” French drafters seem oblivious, however, to the destruction of many of those sites deep inside Georgia by the Russian military in recent days.

5) “Russian forces shall withdraw to the positions [they had held] prior to the start of hostilities. Awaiting an international mechanism, Russian peacekeepers shall implement additional security measures.” Sarkozy and Medvedev agreed on this formulation in Moscow.

Stunned, Georgians asked for a time limit to be set on Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation. Sarkozy responded by inserting in the text: “for six months, renewable.” Georgian consent is not mentioned. Thus, the Russian “peacekeeping” can continue for an unlimited time. Russian “peacekeeping” in Abkhazia was also imposed for a six-month term in 1994, renewable at six-month intervals. It has continued ever since, not least because Western countries, including France, pressured Georgia during the years to accept the continuation of Russian “peacekeeping” there (although, again in fairness to France, it was the U.S. State Department that called the tune in persuading Georgia to yield). The last-minute French insertion of “six months, renewable” can be seen as a stab in the back, unless it originates in poor knowledge of the situation, which is also a disconcerting possibility.

Considering the history of “peacekeeping” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (since 1992 and 1994, respectively), “awaiting an international mechanism” is tantamount to waiting for Godot. There is nothing in Sarkozy’s plan to suggest that things may turn out different in this case.

Authorizing Russia to implement “additional security measures” is another trap. Moscow can interpret such authorization almost at will in terms of military activities. It can also use this stipulation to justify an increase in the number of Russian troops and armaments in South Ossetia or even beyond it inside Georgia. The Kremlin in recent days systematically characterized all the forces it sent into Georgia–tens of thousands of troops–as “additional peacekeeping forces.” Using this logic, Russia can deploy thousands of additional troops for an indefinite term, under the guise of “implementing additional security measures.” Granting Russia such undefined, sweeping authorization must rank as an astonishing slip of professionalism on the part of Sarkozy and his entourage.

6) “Opening international discussions on the modalities of sustainable security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, based on decisions by the United Nations and the OSCE.” The sub-clause referring to the UN and OSCE was added by Sarkozy in Tbilisi, in lieu of a reference to Georgia’s territorial integrity, which the Georgians demanded unsuccessfully. Sarkozy had apparently included a reference to Georgia’s territorial integrity in his proposal to Medvedev in Moscow, but the Russian side threw it out, and Sarkozy conceded the point.

During the joint press conference with Saakashvili in Tbilisi, Sarkozy agreed orally that the right of return of refugees to their homes in Abkhazia should be mentioned in his plan. In those oral remarks Sarkozy also called for the signing of non-use of force agreements by the Georgian government with South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s authorities and with Russia. The first two parts in this proposal are in line with Moscow’s position; the third part is a novel one. For its part, Georgia would sign non-use-of-force agreements with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities in conjunction with agreements on a time-table for the safe return of refugees to their homes; and provided that the non-use-of-force agreements are guaranteed by international peacekeeping observation missions, not by Russian “peacekeeping” troops.

In that press conference–following hours of private discussions with Saakashvili and other Georgian officials–Sarkozy conceded that his plan necessitated additional work. Sarkozy emphasized that it was merely a “framework document,” one of “general principles,” mutually agreed upon but not signed by any party and necessitating elaborate subsequent negotiations. The end result of that process should be a legally binding settlement of the South Ossetia conflict with UN Security Council approval.

The French proposal in its present form is a flawed start that could compromise the subsequent process and the ultimate political settlement, its declared noble goal.