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Russia vs Georgia: The Fallout

Europe Report N°195 22 Aug 2008

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The Russia-Georgia conflict has transformed the contemporary geopolitical world, with large consequences for peace and security in Europe and beyond. Moscow’s initial moves into South Ossetia as large-scale violence broke out there on 7-8 August were in part a response to a disastrous miscalculation by a Georgian leadership that was impatient with gradual confidence building and a Russian-dominated negotiations process. But Russia’s disproportionate counter-attack, with movement of large forces into Abkhazia and deep into Georgia, accompanied by the widespread destruction of economic infrastructure, damage to the economy and disruption of communications and movement between different regions of the country, constitutes a dramatic shift in Russian-Western relations. It has undermined regional stability and security; threatened energy corridors that are vital for Europe; made claims with respect to ethnic Russians and other minorities that could be used to destabilise other parts of the former Soviet Union, with Ukraine a potential target; and shown disregard for international law.

Russian actions reflected deeper factors, including pushback against the decade-long eastward expansion of the NATO alliance, anger over issues ranging from the independence of Kosovo to the placement of missile defence systems in Europe, an assertion of a concept of limited sovereignty for former Soviet states and a newfound confidence and aggressiveness in foreign affairs that is intimately linked with the personality and world view of Russia’s predominant leader, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Georgia, too, has mishandled its relationships with Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia since 2004, abandoning real confidence building and often following confrontational policies towards the conflict regions. With patience it might have demonstrated that the regions would be better served by enjoying extensive autonomy within an increasingly prosperous and democratising Georgia. Instead, President Mikheil Saakashvili and a small inner circle of bellicose officials used menacing and arrogant rhetoric that made the dispute with Moscow and the conflict regions bitter and personal. All sides bear responsibility for the humanitarian consequences of the violence, as tens of thousands of civilians in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia have been displaced amid disturbing reports of atrocities.

Western nations must eschew the worst of the Cold War mentality that would further isolate Russia, but engagement, as UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has put it, has to be “hard-headed”. Russia cannot be allowed to maintain a military force in Georgia except as part of an international peacekeeping mission with non-Russian command, with a clear and mutually acceptable mandate in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The ceasefire signed on 15-16 August must be respected, and Russian troops must return promptly to the positions they held on 7 August, honouring the spirit of a loosely worded agreement. International monitors should be deployed in Georgia proper to observe Russian withdrawal and return of displaced persons (IDPs) and then serve as an interim measure to help maintain the ceasefire in South Ossetia and Abkhazia until a peacekeeping mission can be created.

Russian participation is probably necessary as a practical matter in the peacekeeping mission, although serious questions should be raised about the motives of the Russian forces that Moscow describes as peacekeepers. Command and composition should be genuinely international. All Georgian and Ossetian civilians displaced since 7 August need to be immediately allowed to return to their homes. The Russians and Georgians should agree to and cooperate with investigations to establish responsibility for human rights abuses during the conflict, including by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and perhaps the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

None of this will be easy or even possible without a combination of significant pressures and pragmatic incentives to gain essential Russian approval. Moscow must be made to understand the advantages for its prestige, power and economy of being a partner in ensuring security in Europe rather than an outlier, subject to threats of exclusion from such institutions as the G8 and World Trade Organization (WTO).

The crisis also reflects serious mistakes by the U.S. and the European Union (EU) in Georgia since 2004, most significantly failing to adequately press President Saakashvili to abandon a quick-fix approach toward restoring Georgian control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Georgian army was trained and sold weapons without ensuring that these would not be used to recover the conflict territories, and Russia’s anger over these actions and other perceived post-Cold War slights was misread. Instead of concentrating on democratic institutions and rule of law, the U.S. too often focused its support on Saakashvili personally, even as he engaged in reckless and authoritarian behaviour. As the long-frozen conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia began to heat up, Georgia’s partners did too little to encourage it to engage more substantially in confidence building and dialogue with the de facto authorities and Russia.

With regard to NATO, the division evident at its Bucharest Summit in April 2008 on whether to approve a membership action plan (MAP) for Georgia has been exacerbated. Those countries, led by the U.S., who support Georgia’s accession are pointing to the Russian attacks as clear proof that Georgia needs the protection of NATO security guarantees; those that oppose it believe that NATO dodged a bullet by not committing itself to go to war against Russia in defence of a capricious and reckless government in Tbilisi. A decision on MAP or membership status should not be taken in the heat of the current crisis. It will be difficult to finally resolve the membership issue, in relation to both Georgia and other potential members, without addressing the larger question of NATO’s future role as a security organisation.

At the broader level, the crisis raises significant questions about the capacity of the EU, the UN and NATO to address fundamental issues. While European leaders stepped forward to achieve the ceasefire agreement, their inability to put forward a forceful response to the Russian action reflects a lowest common denominator approach that discourages stronger and more innovative policies. Similarly, the UN Security Council, divided by whether to include references to Georgia’s territorial integrity in either a resolution or statement, has issued nothing on the conflict since it began to boil over on 7 August. In an unhappy reminder of the Cold War years, the conflict has called into question the Council’s capacity to address any issue over which P-5 members have significantly different interests. And in the process of seeking justification for its actions, Russia has also misstated and distorted the UN-approved principle of “responsibility to protect”.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Russian and Georgian Governments and the De Facto South Ossetian and Abkhazian Authorities:

1.  Implement immediately and fully the six-point ceasefire agreement signed on 15-16 August 2008.

2.  Assist monitoring of compliance by a strengthened OSCE Georgia Mission, with full freedom
of movement throughout the country, until a more permanent and substantial international peacekeeping mission can be authorised and deployed.

3.  Allow and support the immediate return of all newly displaced persons and refugees to their homes, provide unrestricted access for humanitarian aid, facilitate the exchange of prisoners and detainees, halt belligerent rhetoric and the issuing of false press reports, assist with the determination of the fate of the missing and cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and humanitarian airlifts, as well as with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other investigating authorities.

To the Russian Government:

4.  Withdraw all military and related personnel from Georgia, except initially for the numbers authorised as peacekeepers before 7 August 2008 in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and subsequently for any who are entitled to serve in an international peacekeeping mission in South Ossetia and Abkhazia that may be authorised by the UN Security Council.

To the De Facto South Ossetian and Abkhazian Authorities:

5.  Halt and desist from violence against ethnic Georgians, destruction of property or forced displacement.

To the Georgian Government:

6.  Sign a non-resumption of hostilities agreement with the de facto authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

7.  Pursue and consistently implement without status preconditions measures to gradually build confidence with South Ossetians and Abkhaz, including by providing full protection to South Ossetian and Abkhaz minorities throughout Georgia.

To the Member States of the UN Security Council:

8.  Negotiate rapidly a resolution that:

a) acknowledges and welcomes the ceasefire signed 15-16 August 2008 and addresses the territorial integrity issues by confirming that it does not affect the legal situation that existed in the concerned area on 7 August 2008;

b) welcomes the dispatch of observers to serve as interim monitors of the ceasefire;

c) authorises for an initial period of one year the formation and operation of a peacekeeping mission, which may be, as appears most practical and expeditious, either a traditional UN mission or the mission of another appropriate international institution such as the OSCE, and is commanded on the military side by a senior soldier from outside the region and on the
political side by a senior diplomat from outside the region. Russian participation in such a mission should be fully integrated into the inter­national command structure and not form a separate force within the main force. This force should be mandated to:

i.  ensure respect for the ceasefire signed on 15-16 August 2008;

ii.  offer such assistance as may be deemed useful by the de facto South Ossetian and Abkhazian authorities to develop their institutions; and

iii.  encourage contacts between the Georgian government, Georgian institutions and individuals and the de facto authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, their institutions and individuals; and

d) establishes a forum in which the concerned parties, facilitated by the UN, as well as interested neighbouring states and international organisations such as the OSCE and EU, can urgently explore practical measures to improve the humanitarian and economic situation, as well as the possibility of more far-reaching political measures to achieve, ultimately, a resolution of the underlying problems that have produced conflict between Georgians, South Ossetians and Abkhazians, including regarding status.

9.  Request that the Secretary-General, after consultations with all parties to the conflict and with relevant international organisations such as the OSCE, appoint an independent panel to conduct an investigation documenting August events in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as other parts of Georgia in which Russian forces established temporary presence. The purpose of the investigation should be to provide an accurate and complete accounting of what occurred in order to promote reconciliation and make it possible to ensure future accountability for any atrocity crimes.

To the European Union and its Member States:

10.  Organise an emergency donors conference, in coordination with the international financial institutions (IFIs) and bilateral donors, for the purpose of obtaining funds to assist the repair of war damage in the affected areas and support economic stability.

11.  Rapidly send interim observers to monitor the ceasefire as part of the OSCE mission, reinforce the office of the European Union Special Representative (EUSR) and the Border Support Team (BST) and take the necessary measures to dispatch a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) team to assist in a peacekeeping mission authorised by the UN Security Council.

To NATO and its Member States:

12.  Do not seek to resolve Georgia’s MAP or membership status until the present crisis has cooled. Consider other appropriate means of satisfying Georgia’s legitimate security concerns pending any progress on its NATO application.

To European Union and NATO Member States:

13.  Advise Russia at the most senior level that if it cooperates in implementing and maintaining the ceasefire signed on 15-16 August 2008 and negotiating and implementing the UN Security Council resolution described above, they are prepared to explore common security interests on a wide range of global issues, including possible ways to bridge differences with respect to Georgia’s relationship to NATO, the expressed Russian interest to consider whether there might be some utility in a forum to draft a new instrument on aspects of European security and otherwise generally to deepen dialogue and cooperation.

14.  Advise Russia at the most senior level that if it does not cooperate in implementing and maintaining the ceasefire signed on 15-16 August 2008 and negotiating and implementing the Security Council resolution described above, they are prepared to adjust relations accordingly, including to:

a) suspend further consideration of Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its participation in the activities of the G8; and

b) request through national committees the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to seek assurances from Russia that appropriate international cooperation is in place with respect to Abkhazia by 1 January 2009, so that there can be confidence the 2014 Winter Games will be prepared adequately and conducted safely and there is no need to review the decision to award those Games to Sochi.

15.  Advise Georgia at the most senior level that if it cooperates in implementing and maintaining the ceasefire signed on 15-16 August 2008 and works constructively with regard to the processes to be set in motion by the Security Council resolution described above, every effort will be made to increase aid appropriate to the needs for reconstruction of the economy and infrastructure and to facilitate its EU integration.

Tbilisi/Brussels, 22 August 2008

 
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