Two months after Russia killed the OSCE’s Georgia Border Monitoring Operation (BMO) — and many months after Moscow had served advance notice of that move — Georgia’s Western partners are still bogged down in inconsequential talk about organizing a substitute operation. Only two months remain until the spring thaw in the high-altitude passes, at which time Moscow will be able to fabricate a case for intervention in Georgia by alleging that “Chechen and international terrorists” are crossing the border into Russia. With the BMO no longer there to refute such accusations, Georgia will be vulnerable to Russian military action or the threat of such action to extort Georgian concessions on other fronts.
Partly responsible for the waste of precious time is a lingering hope that Moscow might relent and “allow” the OSCE to revive a BMO-like effort, albeit downscaled and with a stronger Russian role. Although Moscow remains publicly adamant that the BMO’s termination as of December 31 is final and irrevocable, some OSCE officials and some Western diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic keep musing that the OSCE is the most appropriate framework and that the BMO must continue as an OSCE operation. Should Moscow ultimately “relent,” however, any revived BMO within the OSCE would have to accept Russian-dictated changes in its mandate and structure; would face an annual threat of termination by Russia just like the original BMO, unless it sacrifices its integrity; and, with a diminished size and budget (the OSCE proposes to cut the annual budget from $15 million to $9 million, thus reducing the personnel and patrols), a revived BMO would for the first time lack credibility, no longer being able to refute Russian accusations that it is “ineffective” and “fails to spot terrorists.”
The OSCE’s Conflict Prevention Center is now busy dismantling the BMO on a 20-week deadline that expires in the latter half of May. Some OSCE officials suggest privately — though within earshot of Russian representatives — that the organization is “dragging its feet” on dismantling, in hopes of ultimately eliciting Moscow’s consent to continuation of a downsized BMO. On this issue, the OSCE’s and Georgia’s priorities differ. The OSCE hopes to salvage its project and to remain a European security actor as a matter of institutional vested interest, by Russia’s grace if necessary (as it does in Moldova), even if a downsized BMO would ill-serve Georgia’s security. Georgia, on the other hand, needs an effective and credible BMO, one not open to Russian termination for reasons of “ineffectiveness” and “failure.”
Meanwhile, the OSCE has no overall budget for 2005 because Russia is blocking the budget’s approval. No country, least of all a threatened one such as Georgia, can afford to entrust its security to an organization itself vulnerable to Russian blackmail and whose officials by their own admission are unable to do more than foot-dragging while executing a Russian-dictated measure. At the moment, the OSCE considers offering concessions to Moscow on other issues, so as to elicit Russian consent to continuation of an emasculated BMO. However, the situation should be seen as a unique — indeed, Moscow-given — opportunity for organizing a new BMO that would not be hostage to Russia. Under international law, Georgia and any international organization or informal group of countries is fully entitled to deploy a BMO-type mission on Georgian territory.
NATO (with France alone dissenting) is favorably considering the possibility of holding a consultative meeting of the North Atlantic Council with Georgia in the 26 + 1 format at the ambassadorial level to discuss this issue. However, inasmuch as the Georgia BMO is by definition an unarmed mission, it is not for NATO to undertake. The alliance is also prepared to discuss the issue with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council (NRC). The theoretical possibility of a NRC-mandated, BMO-type mission seems nebulous at this stage, however.
Hypothetically, Georgia can request the deployment of a BMO-type mission by NATO countries, based on the Partnership Action Plan Against Terrorism (PAP-T) under the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). In accordance with those terms, partner states will, through their bodies responsible for border control, enhance their efforts to prevent illicit movement of personnel and material across international borders, and will support assistance efforts in this area. This option would probably entail long discussion with no realistic prospect of timely implementation. It can thus be considered a reserve option for the future.
The European Union has just sent a needs-assessment team to Georgia that is due to report its findings by early March. In recent debates within the EU, the usual grouping of France, Germany, Italy, and Belgium has opposed any EU participation in Georgia border-monitoring efforts, with the argument that Russia is “sensitive” to an international presence across its border. These countries would only support a small-scale training program for Georgian border guards, ruling out an EU presence on the border. Some other EU member countries, both old and new, are in favor of organizing a BMO-type mission on the border. One significant impediment is the wish of many countries that any mission be undertaken under the European Security and Defense Policy. This, however, would limit the mission to the training program away from the border as per the Franco-German-led group’s prescriptions.
The New Group of Georgia’s Friends (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria), which was founded this month in Tbilisi, may be the last and also the best resort for undertaking a new BMO mission, unarmed like the OSCE’s BMO and otherwise replicating its characteristics. Georgia’s leadership has expressed willingness to bear most of the costs, proceeding from the OSCE BMO’s $15 million annual budget. The sine-qua-non aspects are: international presence on the border and reporting to international organizations. Once such a “coalition of the willing” takes shape, several West European countries (from the EU, NATO, and neutrals) seem likely to join. Russia should be invited to participate as it had in the BMO.
That or any other option that entails presence and reporting must be announced no later than mid-March for a mission to be in place by mid-May at the latest. A political appeal, made with due emphasis and visibility by Georgia’s leadership, is necessary in order to break the logjam of time-wasting discussions ahead of the spring thaw.