The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is effectively affixing the seals on the door of its Tbilisi field office on June 30 and wrapping up its 17-year monitoring operation in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone.
The OSCE started pulling out its staff even before the deadline expired. OSCE military monitoring officers (MMOs) reportedly conducted their last patrol on June 25, and the mission head, Terhi Hakala, recently paid farewell visits to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and other government officials.
Despite nine months of intensive negotiations, the OSCE's 56 participating states failed to reach consensus on extending the mission's mandate. An informal meeting of OSCE foreign ministers that took place on the Greek island of Corfu on June 27-28 could not resolve differences, as Russia continued to insist that the mission be vested with a new mandate to take into account the consequences of the 2008 military conflict over South Ossetia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Sources familiar with the negotiations told EurasiaNet that Moscow provided new suggestions, which it claimed could help break the deadlock. But as of June 28, the OSCE's Greek chairmanship had not circulated them. Those sources did not elaborate on the content of the Russian proposals.
The Kremlin blames Saakashvili's administration for starting the 2008 war and opposes any arrangement that would sustain Georgia's territorial claims on South Ossetia and its other separatist republic, Abkhazia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
For that reason, Russia on June 15 vetoed a western-proposed United Nations Security Council draft resolution to extend the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) because it contained an indirect reference to Georgia's territorial integrity.
It is also for that reason that Moscow late in 2008 refused to routinely renew the mandate of the OSCE field operations in Georgia and insisted that the organization open a separate, fully-fledged mission to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Russia eventually dropped that demand, while continuing to argue that the OSCE's monitoring mission should be split into two mutually independent groups, one in Georgia and one in South Ossetia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
With now both the OSCE and the UN out, the only international observer mission to Georgia will be that of the European Union. The 340-strong EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) was launched on October 1 of last year. Its mandate expires on September 30 of this year. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
In line with an agreement reached by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, the EUMM is deployed in areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia and its mandate extends to neither breakaway republic. In addition, Russia has been barring EU monitors from territories that fell into separatist hands during last year's conflict.
Western nations demand that the EUMM be granted access to the entire conflict zone in order to assess the human rights situation there.
In comments made on the sidelines of the OSCE Corfu meeting, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he had once again raised the EUMM access issue with Russian representatives, but had faced a new rebuke. "I just asked for one millimeter of progress in Georgia in giving the EU observers access to the other side of the line; it has not been accepted," news reports quoted him as saying.
Russia rejects Western accusations that it has purposefully blocked negotiations on extending the mandate of the UN and OSCE missions to consolidate its post-war geopolitical gains, achieved through the "annexation" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It blames the Saakashvili administration and Western governments for the collapse of the talks and says it fears the departure of international monitors may incite Georgia to launch a new war to regain its separatist republics.
"What happened with the OSCE mission to [Georgia] and the UN Security Council resolution on the UN mission in the region is a supreme act of diplomatic cynicism," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigori Karasin told the "Kommersant" daily on June 17. "Our impression is that Tbilisi -- and perhaps some other capitals -- have decided to seek a solution to the problem in the waters of instability."
A Western official recently told EurasiaNet he believed that Georgia was resigned to writing off the OSCE and the UN in the hope that the EU -- a grouping of states in which Russia has no vote -- would serve as a more effective deterrent to Moscow's purported annexation plans. "The Georgians believe that EU observers will some day be granted access to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be eventually replaced with an international police force. However, that's wishful thinking," this official said on condition of anonymity.
Conversely, he said he suspected Russia would in the future cite disagreements over Georgia as yet another argument to press for a new European security arrangement.
In the final analysis, termination of the UN and OSCE monitoring missions may negatively impact the Geneva discussions on Georgia. Launched on October 15 under the joint auspices of the UN, the OSCE, and the EU, the Geneva discussions aim to restore security and stability in the region.
On the one hand, diplomats say they fear that despite Russia's assurances that it remains committed to preserving what is left of internationally-sponsored peace mechanisms, the withdrawal of the UN and the OSCE from Georgia will give the Kremlin the ability to raise the question of those two organizations' further participation in the Geneva talks.
In addition, Russia may cite the closure of the UN and OSCE monitoring missions to press Georgia to sign non-aggression pacts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- something the Saakashvili administration deems as redundant.
On June 29, the Russian Foreign Ministry called for a "serious re-appraisal" of the post-conflict situation, including "with regard to the format and prospects of the Geneva discussions." The ministry said in a statement that Russian participants to the upcoming sixth round of Geneva talks, scheduled for July 1, would raise "all pending issues," including that of mutually binding non-aggression pacts between Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
Jean-Christophe Peuch is a Vienna-based freelance correspondent, who specializes in developments related to the Caucasus and Central Asia.