Georgia-Russia: Still Insecure and Dangerous
Georgia-Russia: Still Insecure and Dangerous
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Fenced In: Stabilising the Georgia-South Ossetia Separation Line
Fenced In: Stabilising the Georgia-South Ossetia Separation Line
Briefing / Europe & Central Asia 5 minutes

Georgia-Russia: Still Insecure and Dangerous

Ten months after the “August war” between Georgia and Russia, violent incidents and the lack of an effective security regime in and around the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia create a dangerous atmosphere in which extensive fighting could again erupt.

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I. Overview

Ten months after the “August war” between Georgia and Russia, violent inci­dents and the lack of an effective security regime in and around the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia create a dangerous atmosphere in which extensive fighting could again erupt. Russia has not complied with key aspects of the ceasefire agreements that President Medvedev reached in August/September 2008 with French President Sarkozy in his then EU presidency role. Its 15 June Security Council veto of an extension of the sixteen-year-old UN observer mission mandate in Georgia and Abkhazia and its apparent intention to require the removal of the mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) by the end of the month are blows to regional security that will further fuel tensions. Most of the on-the-ground conflict resolution machinery is thus being dismantled. Moscow should review its counterproductive position and work for a reasonable compromise allowing the UN and OSCE monitors to continue their important work.

Russia says it is guaran­teeing security at the request of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which do not trust international observers. But it has legal obligations to do more for the security and safety of local populations, regardless of ethnicity, and to prevent human rights abuses in areas that are in effect under its control. Most importantly, it must expand efforts to allow the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially the approximately 25,000 ethnic Georgians who have been unable to go back to their homes in South Ossetia.

All sides in the con­flict – Georgian, Russian and South Osse­tian – com­mitted war-time abuses, but the actions of Ossetian militias, who systematically looted, torched and in some cases bulldozed most ethnic Georgian villages, were particularly egregious. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called those abuses “ethnic cleansing” Human Rights Watch cited ample evidence to label them “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes”. The PACE also noted “the failure of Russia and the de facto authorities to bring these practices to a halt and their perpetrators to justice”. Indeed, Russian troops largely stood by, unwilling or unable to perform their security duties.

Since August 2008, Russia has consolidated its position in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the face of relatively little inter­national criticism. It has not returned its military presence to pre-war levels and locations, as called for in the 12 August six-point plan, and, in April 2009, it sent additional troops to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In violation of its 7-8 September agreement with the EU, it has prevented the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from continuing pre-war activities in South Ossetia, including monitoring and implementation of a rehabilitation and reconstruction program. It justifies its positions by saying “new realities” prevail, because it recognised the August independence declarations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and concluded bilateral security agreements.

It has now gone two steps further, not only vetoing the UN mission that has been working in Abkhazia but also blocking a renewed mandate for the OSCE mission to Georgia that has been active in South Ossetia. Though none of the other 56 OSCE member states support it on this latter step, the fourth biggest OSCE mission is on the verge of closing on 30 June because a mandate extension requires consensus.

Several rounds of discussions sponsored by the UN, EU and OSCE, focusing on security and humanitarian issues, have been held among representatives of the four sides in Geneva without tangible results. The presence of excess troops and lack of a security regime have made it impossible for even some IDPs who lived in the former Russian “buffer zones” in Georgia to feel secure enough to return to their homes. The 2008 wave of IDPs presented the Georgian authorities with a serious challenge, when they were already struggling with at least 200,000 IDPs from the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia of the early 1990s. Following the August events, the government swiftly built semi-permanent housing for the newly displaced. Now it needs to develop a more comprehensive approach to integrate both new and old IDPs into the country’s broader social and economic fabric.

In August 2008 Crisis Group recommended a series of steps to resolve the conflict. Many of those recommendations remain unsatisfied but still valid. To stabilise the security situation, lessen chances for renewed major hostilities and improve the humanitarian situation, Russia should:

  • re-engage fully in discussions within the Security Council so as to move beyond its 15 June veto and reach agreement on a functional security regime and implementation mechanism that will facilitate a continued role for the UN in Georgia;
  • comply fully with the cease­fire agreements, in particular by withdrawing from areas its troops did not occupy before 7 August 2008 (the Akhalgori district of South Ossetia, Perevi village on the Georgian side of the administrative border with South Ossetia and the Kodori Gorge region of Abkhazia);
  • allow the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) and international agencies including the UN immediate, free and unfettered access to South Ossetia to monitor security and provide humanitarian assistance;
  • encourage the South Ossetian de facto authorities to announce that Georgian IDPs will be allowed back immediately and engage with donors to find funding for reconstruction in destroyed villages and other areas of South Ossetia damaged during the war;
  • participate constructively in the Geneva talks; and
  • accept the Greek Chairmanship’s status neutral proposal and support continuation of the OSCE Mission.

The Georgian government and the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia should:

  • agree on joint measures, including international monitoring missions’ access to all areas, to prevent incidents and human rights violations in conflict zones and facilitate voluntary, safe, dignified IDP return;
  • implement a comprehensive integration strategy to increase IDPs’ ability to fully participate in political, social and economic life;
  • avoid belligerent rhetoric and false media reporting on the situation in conflict areas; and
  • welcome humanitarian and reconstruction projects sponsored by Western governments or international organisations, including the OSCE, UN, and EU, and amend laws that could obstruct such work.

The EU, the U.S. and the Council of Europe and other international organisations should:

  • support ongoing international investigations into the conduct of the August war and violations by all sides;
  • suspend Russia’s right to vote in the PACE if it does not cooperate in reversing ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia, in particular by fulfilling its 12 August and 7-8 September commitments;
  • encourage the International Olympic Committee to study whether the 2014 Winter Olympics can be safely held in Sochi, Russia, if an effective security regime has not been established in neighbouring Abkhazia;
  • encourage the Security Council to remain seized of the matter, despite the UN Mission’s termination;
  • urge the UN Secretary-General to continue exercising good offices by appointing a special envoy and pursuing efforts to facilitate the peace process;
  • invest the EU mission with an expanded role to address the situation on the ground; and
  • participate constructively in efforts to resolve immediate security and humanitarian problems, including by encouraging the parties to fully engage in the Geneva talks, as a first step towards broader conflict resolution.

This briefing focuses primarily on the situation in South Ossetia; subsequent reporting will be directed at the situation in Abkhazia.

Tbilisi/Brussels, 22 June 2009

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