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OSCE on Georgia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, December 5
The conflict in Georgia is one of the main topics of discussion at the two day OSCE Ministerial in the Finnish capital Helsinki, which will end today, December 5.

Finland is the current Chair of the organization and is known to want to push the organization to adopt a united declaration concerning security in OSCE countries. “We will mention the conflict in Georgia in the declaration in one form or another,” Finnish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Alexander Stubb, said at a news conference on December 3. However it is still not clear how the August events in Georgia will be described in the declaration. Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili, who is representing Georgia at the meeting, said that it is hard to “imagine that in the first decade of the 21st century OSCE has to deal with the military invasion of one member country by another.” She noted that Russia’s actions in Georgia threatened the principles of the OSCE and even “its existence.” Tkeshelashvili spoke about the role of the international community in resolving the problems and thanked the OSCE for the economic assistance provided through the efforts of the organization; however she noted that security issues play a “significant role” in the process of “putting Georgia back on track.”

Tkeshelashvili has underlined that “bold initiatives” are necessary to guarantee peace in the region, “We [Georgia] are ready on our side and hope that we will find the solution to this problem,” stated Tkeshelashvili, adding that the organization “should ensure that the mandates of the international mission are clear to avoid any ambiguity and duplication. Continuation and even strengthening of the OSCE mandates will be essential for conflict resolution.” The Minister also spoke about the problems international observers have of not being allowed to enter the conflict areas and those connected with the return of refugees.

Finnish Foreign Minister Stubb said that he believes OSCE should have observers inside the conflict regions. He said that presence of observers would help to verify reports coming from the region about shooting incidents. "We will make every effort needed [in this regard]," Greek Foreign Minister Bakoyannis told Reuters on December 4. "There must be OSCE observers; we must be able to have a complete, realistic picture of what's really happening. If goodwill is expressed by all, we'll find a solution."

This point of view was supported by David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, who said that it was important for the organization to re-establish its military monitoring activities in South Ossetia, “because independent monitoring is the only way for the ceasefire agreement to be fully assessed.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who also addressed the summit, said that a quick agreement on “a viable mandate for the OSCE's work in all of Georgia” was needed. “For us, this specifically includes Georgia's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” he said.

Moscow is insisting on modifying the mandates of the OSCE missions in Georgia. It proposes to create independent OSCE representation in South Ossetia, which will correspond to the “new realities” in the region, meaning the recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as the independent states by Russia. How the matter is resolved will largely determine whether the OSCE military observers will be able to return to Tskhinvali.

According to its current mandate, OSCE is authorized to have eight observers in its Tskhinvali field office; OSCE withdrew its staff from Tskhinvali on August 8 2008 when the military actions started. Without being included in the official agenda of the summit, the issue of the OSCE mission’s mandate in Georgia will be discussed informally at the Ministerial. “We do have some proposals on how to renew the mandate, which comes to an end on December 31, but I will leave those proposals to the discretion of our negotiators,” Finnish Foreign Minister Stubb said, “These proposals are quite creative and good and I hope we can find a common solution,” he added.

Speaking last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov maintained that the OSCE mission had failed to prevent the war in the period before August 8. “OSCE has neither the mandate nor the capability to stop war, but OSCE and its observers are part of the mechanism of monitoring the observance of agreements. We are interested in knowing what [OSCE] observers saw and to whom they were reporting about it,” said Lavrov. OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said on December 4 that “early warning of rising tensions was ample and regular” before the conflict broke out in breakaway South Ossetia. He, however, also said that in August, after the war broke out, “we saw only too clearly the limits of all our painstaking early warning and conflict prevention work.” Alexander Stubb said in his address to the Foreign Ministerial summit that early warning by the organization “was not heeded as almost 20 years of stalled efforts to resolve the conflict boiled over into violence.”

Lavrov, who is also participating in the Ministerial, had still to make a statement late last night Tbilisi time.