After days of heated talks, all 56 OSCE member states agreed on August 19 to deploy additional unarmed monitors to Georgia. The OSCE monitors will be responsible for tracking the implementation of a framework agreement signed by Georgian and Russian leaders.
Russia is continuing to flout the framework agreement, ignoring a provision that calls for a total withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia proper. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. While a small column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles withdrew from the strategic hub of Gori, Georgian officials characterized the maneuver as an act. "They [Russian forces] are just staging it to show foreign journalists as if they are starting pulling out," the Civil Georgia website quoted Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman as saying. "In fact they are returning back [to Gori]."
Meanwhile, a Russian military spokesman announced that Russian troops would remain in the Black Sea port city of Poti, pending the formation of "a new local administration," according to a report distributed by the official RIA-Novosti news agency. Russian soldiers reportedly took over a dozen Georgian security officers prisoner in Poti, as well as confiscated American-made Humvee vehicles.
Although Georgia and Russia completed a prisoner exchange on August 19, both sides continued to trade accusations connected to the POW issue. Georgia continues to insist that Russia is concealing the real number of Georgian prisoners that it is holding. Although Russia traded 13 Georgians for five Russian servicemen, including two pilots, Tbilisi insists that Moscow is holding as many as 80 prisoners. Russian Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn scoffed at the claim. "I wonder if the list of 80 captives had been prepared beforehand ... to get on our nerves," RIA-Novosti quoted Nogovitsyn as saying.
Nogovitsyn appeared to confirm that Russian soldiers would be remaining on Georgian territory for the foreseeable future, saying that Moscow was establishing new "peacekeeping" bases in the region. He also accused Georgia of failing to abide by the framework agreement.
Russia's actions in Georgia are producing a sharp increase in tension between Moscow and the West. NATO announced on August 19 -- which happens to be the 17th anniversary of the failed coup attempt against former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the event that sparked the collapse of the Soviet Union -- that under the present circumstances it could no longer conduct "business as usual" with Russia. The Kremlin appeared unmoved by NATO's statement, as Russian officials announced that Russian naval ships would not be participating in joint exercises in the Baltic Sea with NATO vessels.
Meanwhile, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, suggested in an interview with Spanish radio that Brussels needed to reassess its ties with Russia. "Without a doubt the events of the past few days force us to review our relations with them," Solana said. "In general, much will depend on how they behave in the coming hours."
The OSCE agreed to send up to 100 additional observers to Georgia during a special meeting of the OSCE's Permanent Council -- the organization's main regular decision-making body -- in Vienna. The first batch of monitors could arrive in Georgia by the end of this week.
The OSCE had been maintaining eight unarmed military monitoring officers (MMO) as part of its 200-member mission to Georgia -- including five in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. The MMOs have a mandate to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement concluded in 1992 between Georgia and its separatist territory of South Ossetia. All OSCE military observers left the conflict zone when fighting erupted in early August.
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE, proposed to increase the number of MMOs by up to 100 to monitor the recently agreed Russian-Georgian ceasefire and support humanitarian assistance to the region.
"I hope that [the August 19] decision by the OSCE will contribute to the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement and facilitate the prompt opening of humanitarian corridors to assist the civilian population and prepare for a return of refugees and internally displaced persons," Stubb said in a statement.
"Some of the details must still be worked out, but the agreed increase in the number of monitors will enable the OSCE to help stabilize the situation and support international relief efforts," a separate OSCE statement quoted Aleksi Harkonen, the head of the Finnish chairmanship's task force, as saying.
Under the terms of the agreement, the additional MMOs will be deployed for a minimum period of six months.
Negotiations over Stubb's proposal started in Vienna on August 14. OSCE officials say privately that among the factors that delayed an agreement was Moscow's insistence that a substantial number of Russian military officers be included in the expanded MMO format. Moscow also wanted the additional MMOs to be stationed along a line that was roughly 50 kilometers south of the administrative border that separates South Ossetia from Georgia.
The August 19 agreement states that the additional MMOs will be recruited from among the 56 OSCE participating states, without elaborating further. OSCE ambassadors agreed that the first 20 monitors will be stationed in areas "adjacent to South Ossetia."
Harkonen said after the Permanent Council meeting that this advanced contingent will be deployed around the Georgian town of Gori. Specifics concerning the deployment of the remaining monitors will be worked out at a later date. Harkonen said he hoped MMOs would eventually be deployed in South Ossetia -- something Georgia and the United States insist upon.
"While today's decision is far from perfect, we believe it is of the utmost importance to get additional MMOs on the ground as soon as possible," Julie Finley, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, said in a statement on August 19.
"If the parties to the conflict can accept this language, we can, too," she added. Finley went on to urge Russian forces to "honor their commitment" to withdraw to positions held before the outbreak of hostilities between Georgia and Russia on August 7-8.
Jean-Christophe Peuch is a Vienna-based freelance correspondent, who specializes in Caucasus- and Central Asia-related developments.