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Meditation on the Council of Europe resolution

Monday, October 6
After debating the issue for two days the Council of Europe has made a resolution on the Russia-Georgia war in August. The Georgian leadership has declared it a Georgian victory, with some among them even hoping it will stop the Russian aggression.

If we take into consideration how irritated Moscow is by the resolution it should be beneficial to Tbilisi. However, when we read the document carefully we find certain clauses which should ring alarm bells. The Georgian authorities should not ignore these in the euphoria of temporary success.

The COE document says that the Russian attack on Georgia was an inappropriate response to the situation in South Ossetia, that Russia has to denounce its decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, that it should pull its military forces out of the whole of Georgia and that the process of returning of IDPs should start. The resolution also contains concern over the ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population The Georgian Parliament positively evaluated the document, supporting it unanimously, but words are words and actions may be quite another thing.

Nobody has any illusions that the Kremlin will immediately start implementing the decision. As Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria stated the resolution is merely part of an international politics of pressure which eventually will force Russia to retreat step by step. But there are two preconditions to the achievement of this outcome: one is that the COE and other international institutions continue putting pressure on Moscow and the second is that the Kremlin is committed to upholding the principles of these organizations. Both of these preconditions, it is already clear, may not exist for much longer if they exist at the present time.

Secretary General of the Council of Europe Terry Davis, in his interview with the BBC Russian service some days ago, spoke about certain violations Georgia had committed and wrong steps it had taken. Davis acknowledges Russia’s wrongdoing as well, but these comments about Georgia imply that the COE applying continual pressure on Russia is far from certain. The question Davis should ask himself is: who started the war? We can look back through history and study analogous situations. Who started World War I? Is this the answer ? The student Gavrilo Princip who killed Crown Prince Ferdinand!!! If Davis is willing to publicly attack Georgia whilst ignoring the fact that Moscow encouraged separatism in Georgia, distributed Russian passports to Georgian citizens, introduced its military forces in the guise of peacekeepers, practically annexed the territories long before August 2008, had parts of its armed forces already in Georgia and that these territories are still part of Georgia, this does not suggest that the COE is committed to punishing Russia for its breaches of international norms.

Russia regards itself as a member of the international community. Yet it is obvious that Russia does not care about the COE, EU, OSCE, UN, the principles for which they stand and which Russia signed up to when they joined, or anybody’s opinion whatsoever. Throughout the August conflict and for a long time previously Russia has taken no notice of what the rest of the international community calls acceptable. Moscow agrees verbally but creates millions of obstacles, lies, distorts facts, refuses to admit the simplest truth and willfully misinterprets texts, as it is now doing by misreading the Sarkozy-brokered agreement and distorting it according to its wishes. How therefore will a resolution it ignores, if not backed up by meaningful sanction, have any effect whatsoever on Russia?

The COE wants an investigation into who stated the war and what has happened since. If someone wants to investigate, let them. But even if the investigation proves with hundreds of arguments that Russia was wrong the Kremlin will not agree and will refuse to take any notice. Even if taking this step did lead to an intensification of international pressure on Russia, it could easily denounce the investigation as biased or inaccurate, demonstrate that the COE has no effective authority over it and continue as before, as its previous incarnation as the Soviet Union did throughout its history, something the Western part of Europe seems to be increasingly forgetting or reinterpreting according to a revisionist view which the Easternmost members of the Council of Europe, who lived through the reality, are unable to recognize.

There is one fundamental problem with the COE resolution. Such resolutions, and the organizations which draw them up, are intended to apply to normal countries and peoples. “Once Russia was suspended from international organisations due to the Chechen issue but this did not change Moscow’s politics,” says Zurab Abashidze, Georgia’s former Ambassador to Russia. Georgia may have won a piece of paper, but if Europe is not much more serious than this, there is a grave danger that that is all it will ever be.