As the deadline for parliamentary appraisal of the Russian peacekeepers’ performance is less than a month away, Tbilisi has intensified criticism of the Russian troops stationed in the South Ossetian conflict zone. But some Georgian officials have already cautiously warned about consequences this might trigger.
Parliamentary hearings about the performance of the Russian peacekeepers in the South Ossetian conflict zone will reportedly take place on February 7. After the testimonies delivered by the government members, parliamentarians will decide whether to demand peacekeepers' withdrawal.
This procedure is envisaged by the resolution passed by the Parliament on October 10, 2005. According to the resolution the government should report to the Parliament by February 10, 2006 about the peace process in the South Ossetian conflict zone. If the Parliament decides that no progress has been made, the lawmakers will demand that the peacekeepers begin withdrawing starting from February 15, 2006.
Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze reiterated on January 16 that the Parliament plans to “strictly adhere” to this resolution.
“If there is progress [in the performance of the Russian peacekeepers] we will only welcome it, but if, unfortunately, there is no progress. The Georgian Parliament will strictly abide by its [October 10] resolution and on February 15 we will demand the government to launch procedures for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers,” Nino Burjanadze said while speaking at a session of the parliamentary bureau.
Leader of the parliamentary majority Maia Nadiradze of the ruling National Movement party made it clear on January 16 that the resolution was a part of Tbilisi’s policy aimed at withdrawal of Russian troops from the conflict zone.
“It [the resolution] was just another step in Georgia's consistent policy to have the Russian peacekeepers leave here in compliance with all the rules and diplomatic norms,” she said.
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said on January 4 that “when time for the parliamentary hearing comes, we [the Defense Ministry] are ready to submit to the Parliament all evidence which speaks that the Russian peacekeepers do not deserve prolongation of their mandate.”
Tbilisi’s main source of criticism towards the peacekeepers is their perceived lack of impartiality and that they fail to demilitarize the conflict zone - i.e. to disarm the South Ossetian militias and "defense ministry".
Following these statements by the Georgian politicians on January 16 the Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPKF) in the conflict zone, consisting of servicemen from the Georgian, Russian and Ossetian sides, confiscated arms from the breakaway South Ossetian Defense Ministry’s forces.
The news was reported by the unrecognized republic’s official agency Press and Information Committee. According to this report a ZU 23-3-type self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, installed in the village of Dmenisi and a mobile radio station belonging to the South Ossetian forces was confiscated.
But it is less likely that this report will soften Tbilisi’s stance over Russian peacekeepers’ performance.
On January 16 the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a strong-worded statement slamming Maj. Gen. Marat Kulakhmetov, Commander of the JPKF for accusing the Georgian side in unwillingness to solve the conflict peacefully.
“The Commander’s attempt to bring this issue to the foreground and put improper political accents on it casts a shadow on his impartiality and the expediency of continuing the peacekeeping operation within the existing format,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry’s statement reads.
The statement has not mentioned the report on confiscation of arms in the village of Dmenisi.
Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava thinks that decision about withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the conflict zone should be thoroughly considered. He said in an interview to Rustavi 2 television on January 16 that instead of making “loud statements” some politicians should think that the South Ossetian “region is full of operatives from the Russian special services” and “we should expect any kind of provocation.”
At the same time, Khaindrava was quoted by the Russian RIA Novosti, as saying that if Russian troops withdraw, he sees no need for introducing any other international military presence. Khaindrava argued tensions between South Ossetia and Tbilisi "can not be worse than they are now", but he argued the two sides are likely to reach the compromise in bilateral talks even without presence of the Russian peacekeepers.