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Russia condemned for OSCE decision

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, December 24
The American State Department has condemned Russia’s decision to veto the extension of the OSCE mission in Georgia.

“In opposition to the rest of the international community, however, Russia alone has insisted on changing the mandate to reflect its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia’s decision to block the extension of the mission is difficult to justify, given ongoing tensions and significant humanitarian concerns in the region,” says the State Department statement published on December 22. The Department also underlines the importance of OSCE’s activity in the Georgian conflict regions. “The OSCE Mission to Georgia has been a valuable contributor to conflict resolution efforts. The Mission’s monitors have played an invaluable role in promoting military transparency and assessing the humanitarian and human rights situation amid reports of serious violations of minority rights and the forced displacement of civilian populations in or from Georgia’s region of South Ossetia,” says the statement.

The EU has also made a statement on the same issue. The Union’s current President, France, stated it "regrets that no accord has been obtained at this stage to renew the mandate of the OSCE in Georgia. The OSCE has an important role to play in the resolution of conflicts, and working towards stability and security in the region,” says the announcement published in Paris on December 23.

Another European country, Austria, has joined in condemning Russia’s action. The Austrian Minister of European and International Affairs, Michael Spindelegger, has stated that the Russian veto is an “obviously disappointing step back” after a “hopeful dialogue” between Russia and Georgia in Geneva. He added that the withdrawal of OSCE observers from Georgia will not serve stability in the region. “I expected more pragmatism and flexibility from Russia on this issue,” said Spindelegger, quoted by Russian agency RIA-Novosti on December 23.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Nalbandov, speaking to The Messenger, stated that Russia had “managed to get rid of” an important international organization working on the territory of Georgia. He underlined that not only OSCE military observers but human rights monitors will now be unable to continue their work. Nalbandov stated that it is quite possible that Russia will take the same actions against UN mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).

“As you know Russia is a member of UN Security Council, so it can simply veto the prolongation of the UNOMIG mandate in Georgia,” said the Deputy Minister. He also noted that the withdrawal of the international organizations will give Russia “the possibility to increase its military presence on the territory of [Georgian breakaway regions] Abkhazia and South Ossetia, without this being monitored by unbiased international observers.” Nalbandov also drew attention to the “mass human rights violations” in the conflict regions, which Tbilisi has declared to be “occupied” by Russian troops. The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published an official statement on December 22 appealing to the international community “to respond with a united voice to the attempts of the Russian Federation to prevent international organizations from continuing their activities in Georgia.”

The OSCE's Finnish Presidency announced on Monday that the security agency would pull its observers out of Georgia on January 1. The OSCE has 180 staff in Georgia, including 28 unarmed observers monitoring the ceasefire in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia. At the end of the five-day war, Russian troops blocked OSCE observers from gaining access to sites inside South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia.

Russia is also pushing for a separate, independent UN mission in Abkhazia, which like South Ossetia was recognized as ‘independent’ by Russia on August 26, soon after the end of the Russian-Georgian conflict.