Russo-Georgian Tensions Discussed at Security Council
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 22 Jul.'08 / 12:22

There was “very strong support” for Georgia’s territorial integrity among UN Security Council members and “very strong condemnation” of acts of “military aggression” by Russia, Irakli Alasania, Georgia’s UN ambassador said.

He was speaking after a special meeting of the UN Security Council, which was convened upon Georgia’s request following Russia’s admission that its military aircraft had intruded into Georgian airspace over breakaway South Ossetia on July 8.

Russia cited its intention to stop an alleged Georgian military incursion into breakaway South Ossetia as the reason behind its decision to send military jets into the region. 

Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin persued this line at the Security Council session.

He told journalists after the session that he had “laid out in detail facts” supporting the Russian contention that "a military adventure” and an attempt by Tbilisi “to settle matters with military means” were afoot.

“Fortunately, steps taken by the Russian side and a very wise course of action by the South Ossetian authorities meant what we were concerned about did not happen,” he said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said after the Security Council session that the United States was “troubled” by the violation of Georgia’s airspace by Russia and he urged “Russia to take steps for it to be a credible partner to the friends of Georgia process and play a constructive role.”

He also said that the United States was also concerned over the presence of Russian airborne and railway units in Abkhazia “that has no legal basis.”

Jean-Maurice Ripert, France’s UN ambassador, told journalists after the session: “Any solution has to be based on the independence and sovereignty and integrity of Georgia… Violation of Georgia’s airspace is not of any help.”

The Georgian airspace violation was discussed at the UN Security Council session in the broader context of conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia’s UN ambassador complained after the session that “some of the Security Council members continued their, what he called, biased, pro-Georgian stance.

“Unfortunately some of them could not overcome their lack of objectivity and well-known pro-Georgian leanings,” Churkin said.

He said that it was very important to hear “one member of the Security Council, maybe more, but particularly one member, speaking very clearly about his support for the existing negotiating formats” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Churkin declined to reveal this state, but said it was a member of the UN Secretary General’s Group of Friends on Georgia. France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and the U.S. are members of the group dealing with the Abkhaz conflict. The U.S. and EU have recently voiced different positions about the negotiating format for the South Ossetian conflict.

The Russian ambassador said that Tbilisi’s drive to change the formats was “unrealistic.”

“Many unconstructive moves undertaken by the Georgian side in both of the conflict zones are motivated by Tbilisi’s desire to change the existing negotiating and peacekeeping formats,” he said. “It is completely unrealistic. It is waste of time and it is taking away Georgia’s attention – and everybody’s attention – from the need to apply real political efforts.”

Churkin also reiterated Moscow’s stance on the need to prioritize a treaty on the non-use of force rather than the return of internally displaced persons to Abkhazia at the first stage.

“Even though we understand the importance of the principle [of return of internally displaced persons], we also have to be pragmatic and understand what can be done as a first step [and] what should be done or attempted as a second step. The truth of the matter is that in the past few years, to a larger extent, because of the unconstructive moves by the Georgian side, the situation in the areas of the conflict has deteriorated and trust and confidence has been undermined,” he said.

“Is it practically possible; is it realistic; is it feasible to try to solve everything in one sweep?” he continued. “Or is it more pragmatic and realistic – and we believe it is – to do first things first? And the first thing in order to try to restore confidence is to sign a treaty on the non-use of force and to pull out forces from Kodori Gorge.”

Georgia's UN ambassador, however, said that Tbilisi, although not against a treaty on the non-use of force, deemed such a treaty possible only “in connection to the Abkhaz side accepting the right of Georgian refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes in Abkhazia.”

He said that providing guarantees for the security of returned displaced persons was also a matter of concern.

“Russian peacekeepers clearly lack the credibility to do that,” Alasania added.

Russia has recently tabled a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling on Georgia to sign a treaty on the non-use of force and to pull out its forces from upper Kodori Gorge. Russia, however, seems to have failed to push the draft resolution because of resistance from the United States and instead Russia is now trying to have at least a statement from the UN Security Council presidency on the matter.

Churkin downplayed this failure, saying that the “main thing is not format.”

“The main thing is to send the right message to the Georgian side and to the parties that the Georgian side should refrain from provocations and the first step the Georgian side should take is to sign a non-use of force treaty [in respect of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia] and in respect of Abkhazia to withdraw forces from the upper Kodori Gorge,” he added.

The Georgian ambassador said that in his address to the UN Security Council he had expressed Georgia concern over ongoing Russian military exercises in the North Caucasus, close to the Georgian border.

Churkin, however, responded: “If it is ok to have U.S. forces exercising in Georgia or in the Black Sea, why could it be questionable for the Russian forces to exercise on Russian territory? This is a mind boggling proposition.”

Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, said on July 22 that the discussion of the situation in Georgia’s conflict zones and Russia’s military aggression at the UN Security Council's special session was yet another diplomatic success for Georgia.

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