Closing down of the OSCE Mission in Georgia will start in January, as Russia has blocked extension of the 16-year-old mission’s mandate.
“I deeply regret the situation,” Finnish Foreign Minister, Alexander Stubb, an outgoing OSCE Chairman-in-Office, said on December 22. “Finland has put a lot of effort into finding a solution. The OSCE still has much work to do in the region. Despite the situation today, I hope that negotiations on future OSCE activities in Georgia can be continued next year.”
Moscow has been insisting that a new mandate for the mission was needed to reflect the new realities that have emerged aftermath of the August war. The Russian diplomats insisted on a separate mandate for OSCE presence in South Ossetia, which would be independent of the Tbilisi office.
Finland in its capacity of the OSCE chairmanship, proposed a package deal, which included parallel, mutually independent field offices to Georgia and South Ossetia.
“The field offices would have been directed by a Special Representative of the Chairman-in-Office, having headquarters in Vienna,” OSCE said in a press release. “As an alternative, Finland proposed that the current mandate be prolonged by three months to allow more time for the negotiations.”
Georgia’s ambassador to OSCE, Victor Dolidze, said that Russia has even rejected to support technical three-month extension of the mission’s mandate.
“Now Russia states that there is no need for continuation of the OSCE mission in Georgia at all after December 31,” Dolidze said.
OSCE press release said that Russia could not accept any linkage between the OSCE activities in South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia, because Moscow has recognized the independence of South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia.
Russia wanted not simply a separate field office of OSCE in Tskhinvali, but an independent OSCE mission in the breakaway region with initial duration of six months with possibility of further prolongation.
“Russia did everything to remove one more international [organization’s] mandate from Georgia,” Grigol Vashadze, the Georgian foreign minister, said. “This move is aimed at leaving as few international witnesses as possible to those illegal actions, which are taking place on the occupied territories and thousands of cases of human rights violations.”
Russian envoy to OSCE, Anvar Azimov, said that Moscow was not in fact against of the OSCE mission’s mandate in Georgia, but its extension, he said, in the form as it was proposed, would have contravened “the Russian legislation on recognition of South Ossetia’s independence.”
OSCE Mission in Georgia, which currently has up to 200 staff, was established with headquarters in Tbilisi back in 1992 with an initial mandate to promote negotiation process between the Georgian and South Ossetian sides. The mandate was later expanded and it now also covers human rights, freedom of media and economic and environmental dimensions.