Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 61

At Moscow’s request, the United Nations Security Council excluded Georgia from the March 28 session that discussed prolonging the mandate of the United Nations Missions of Observers in Georgia. UNOMIG has been stationed in Abkhazia since 1994 as a passive, largely irrelevant bystander that never dented the Russian military’s “peacekeeping” monopoly and unlawful activities, which are now intensifying in Abkhazia.

Presumably, the Security Council members should have been interested in the Georgian government’s view, particularly in light of the ongoing, intrusive Russian actions on the ground. However, the Security Council seemed to accept Moscow’s implicit position that Georgia — the country on whose territory the conflict under discussion takes place — need not be listened to by the UN.

Georgia had asked to be invited and be given an opportunity to make a statement to the session. However, the Security Council used the technical device of defining the session as a “closed consultation,” so as to exclude Georgia. Such a decision is a procedural matter, not subject to any country’s veto, and largely up to the President of the Council to resolve. The delegate from Argentina, the presiding country this month, ruled in Russia’s favor.

Argentina, with no interest in the matter, acted that way simply to avoid discomfort with Moscow. Apparently, Argentina did not feel concerned about possible discomfort with Washington. The latter’s UN representatives did not seem to pull their weight for ally Georgia to be permitted to exercise its right to attend and speak.

In a message to the session from outside the shut doors, Georgia’s UN Permanent Representative Revaz Adamia had to remark, “There is no progress in the conflict-resolution process precisely because there is no transparency in the process itself.” While acknowledging UN Secretary General Special Representative Heidi Tagliavini’s personal efforts to advance the process, Adamia noted that any advancement toward effective conflict-resolution requires changing the Russian-made “peacekeeping” format, replacing it with a fundamentally new international peacekeeping operation.

For nearly 12 years, the Security Council has routinely prolonged UNOMIG’s mandate by a resolution every six months. In January 2006, however, veto-wielding Russia only consented to a “technical rollover” of the mandate for two months. With this move, Moscow implicitly threatens to reexamine UNOMIG’s operation at two-month intervals and potentially terminate it, in the event that Georgia exercises its sovereign right to demand the replacement of Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation.

This tactic amounts to blackmailing Georgia, to whom UNOMIG’s mere presence is important as an international witness to possible Russian military or proxy moves against Georgia across the ceasefire line. Without the admittedly ineffectual UNOMIG, Georgia would be left face-to-face with the Russian military. In such a situation, the latter could act without witnesses and provoke clashes, if Tbilisi demands the replacement of Russian “peacekeepers” by a genuine international peacekeeping operation.

Indeed Moscow now faces a July 2006 deadline, set by Georgia’s parliament in October 2005, for an assessment of the purposes and performance of the Russian operation in Abkhazia. Given that operation’s track record, Georgia will almost certainly call for an international contingent to replace the Russian one in Abkhazia, as the parliament recently did with regard to South Ossetia (see EDM, February 15, 24). Moscow, seemingly threatening to pull the rug from under UNOMIG, tries to intimidate Georgia into acquiescence with the existing Russian operation.

At one time, some Security Council member countries had seriously considered the deployment of an international peacekeeping contingent under UN mandate in Abkhazia. UNOMIG’s chiefs, Philipp Brunner of Switzerland and Liviu Bota of Romania (Tagliavini’s predecessors) advanced such proposals during the 1990s, but the UN’s then-Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and some key countries chose to tolerate a Russian “peacekeeping” monopoly under a CIS flag of convenience.

Over the past year, at least six Russian-Abkhaz joint military exercises have been held, using Russian-supplied weaponry, and supervised by commanders seconded from Russia to “Abkhaz” forces, in reality joint forces. Russia’s de facto economic and political incorporation of an Abkhazia ethnically cleansed of Georgians is proceeding apace. Rather than discussing these matters, the UN seems to cooperate with Russia in muzzling the targeted country.

(Documents of the UN Security Council session, March 28; see EDM, February 7, March 27)