Russia blocks UN mission in Georgia
By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, June 17
Russia vetoed the prolongation of the UN Mission to Georgia at the UN Security Council session in New York on June 15.
“The draft UN Security Council resolution presented a whole list of politically incorrect statements and some old definitions which contradict the changed realities in the region,” stated Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin explaining Russia’s position. Russia was the only country which voted against the proposed resolution. The Kremlin protested against the terms of the existing UN mandate which provides a single mission for both Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia. “In fact it [the draft resolution] was designed to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and denied the existence of Abkhazia as a state, so it’s obvious that Russia was not able to agree to that,” stated Churkin.
By taking this decision Russia has put an end to a UN mission which has existed since 1994. The mandate of the mission ends on June 16, the vote in Security Council was supposed to provide a technical extension of the mission until a final vote was taken. Russia also proposed its own resolution, in which Abkhazia was mentioned as an independent state, but this was rejected by other Security Council member states. “Our partners preferred the poison to the cure,” said the Russian envoy to the UN.
“By discontinuing the UN Observer Mission to Georgia, Russia has continued the policy it started to implement in the OSCE, one of removing the international presence from Georgia. As we remember, Russia vetoed the continuation of the OSCE Mission to Georgia on December 22, 2008 and May 13, 2009. By ending UNOMIG Russia has removed the international community's final instrument for maintaining peace and stability in Abkhazia, Georgia and improving the livelihood of the local population, who live in constant danger, whose fundamental rights and freedoms are constantly violated and whose security depends solely on the Russian occupation forces and their proxy Abkhaz militias, responsible for many instances of ethnic cleansing and atrocities throughout Abkhazia, Georgia over the last decades,” stated the Georgian Foreign Ministry, commenting on the June 15 session.
“Russia's decision to veto the UN Mission to Georgia can only be explained in terms of its policy of eliminating all international presence in Georgia. It is indeed unfortunate that Russia continues to deepen its self-imposed isolation from the civilized world. Every decision Russia makes with regard to Georgia further deepens the abyss between Russia and the international community,” says a special statement published by the Ministry on June 16. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi the Georgian Foreign Minister also noted that despite the fact Georgia regrets the UN mission’s impending withdrawal from the country it has already prepared alternative plan for giving international observers the right to work in the breakaway regions, although he would not talk about the details of this plan at this stage.
“This was an expected result,” leader of the opposition Conservative Party Kakha Kukava told The Messenger on June 16. “Unfortunately our foreign partners were unable to protect the mission and our enemies [Russia] got the chance to celebrate another victory,” Kukava stated, underlining that the failure to ensure the mission’s extension is a failure of Georgian diplomacy. “The only way to improve this situation is to change the current regime,” concluded Kukava.
Speaker of the Georgian Parliament David Bakradze declared that “it’s obvious that saving the mission was important, however preserving the principle of the territorial integrity of Georgia is much more important.” Speaking to local journalists on Tuesday Bakradze noted that Georgia’s territorial integrity is the “red line”, not only for the Georgian state but the international community as well. “Such support from the international community gives us hope that in the near future we will start serious negotiations to ensure that we do not leave the occupied territories [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] without international monitoring. At least EU observers should be given the right to operate there.”
The UN has published an official statement by its Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the outcome of the Security Council’s session. “The Secretary-General regrets that the Security Council has been unable to reach agreement on the basis of a package of practical and realistic proposals he submitted to the Security Council aimed at contributing to a stabilisation of the situation on the ground. The Secretary-General extends his appreciation to all the men and women who served the mission, and to the countries that provided them. In particular, he expresses his profound tribute to the memory of those who have lost their lives in the service of peace there,” says the statement published on June 15.
Representatives of the Abkhazian separatist Government say that the suspension of the UN mission in Georgia was “awaited.” Speaking to Russian journalists on Tuesday the de facto Abkhazian Foreign Minster Sergey Shamba noted that “the unconstructive position of the UN Security Council had already given reason to doubt the possibility of the extension of the mission.” Shamba stated that the demands of the Sokhumi de facto Government, presented by Russia, to create a separate independent mission for Abkhazia were justified, because Abkhazia “is not related to Georgia at all.” Shamba is sure that Abkhazia will lose nothing by no longer having a UN mission in Sokhumi. “We see our major security guarantee lying in relations and military cooperation with Russia,” he said on June 16.
“Russia has used its presence in the Security Council to pursue its own narrow interests,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on June 16. “This mission was helping defuse tension and deter further conflict. Its withdrawal will affect the day-to-day lives of people living in the conflict areas,” he added. “Russia should abide fully by its other existing international commitments, including the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreements of 12 August and 8 September 2008. Russia should withdraw its troops to pre-conflict positions, participate constructively in the Geneva talks on a negotiated settlement, and ensure access for humanitarian aid and full respect for human rights in areas under Russia's de facto control.”
Patricia Flor, the German Ambassador to Georgia, has also published a statement expressing her “disappointment” at the Russian veto. “Over 16 years the UN mission to Georgia has played a significant role in maintaining stability and managing the conflict in both the Abkhazian and Samegrelo regions. I would like to thank the mission’s military observers and other employees, who often had to work under very difficult conditions. Working for this mission led to loss of life for several of its employees and one German was amongst them,” stated the Ambassador, adding that she regrets that the UN mission will not now be able to protect and provide humanitarian aid for refugees from Abkhazia and Abkhazian residents themselves, especially in the Gali region of Abkhazia. “I would like to confirm once again Germany’s support for the territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally- recognised borders,” the statement concluded.
“In this instance I agree with the official position of the [Georgian] Foreign Ministry, which has stated that Russia has made another mistake which will push it outside the international community,” stated independent Georgian political expert Ramaz Sakvarelidze, speaking to The Messenger on Tuesday. He noted however that this veto will create additional difficulties for Georgia in the process of resolving the conflict. Commenting on Grigol Vashadze’s plan to work out alternative ways of ensuring there is international monitoring, Sakvarelidze noted that EU observers may be considered the best solution in this situation.
Now the UN and OSCE missions have been vetoed out of existence the only international observer mission remaining in Georgia is the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) which began operating in October 2008. However this is not allowed to operate in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.