UN observer mission has started preparing for wrapping up over fifteen-year-old operations in Georgia after Russia’s veto in the Security Council on June 15.
Although “regretting” about closure of the UN mission, Tbilisi says that it was a better outcome than having a Security Council resolution not making a reference to Georgia’s territorial integrity as insisted by Russia.
The mission’s major task was to monitor situation on the both sides of the Abkhaz administrative border and also in upper Kodori Gorge, which was the only part of the breakaway region under Tbilisi’s control before the August war.
Russia’s veto on extending the mission’s mandate comes after Moscow has also blocked OSCE monitoring operations in breakaway South Ossetia. The current mandate of OSCE monitors, who had no access to South Ossetia since the August war, expires on June 30. The OSCE mission in Georgia has already scheduled its farewell reception for June 22.
Like in case of OSCE mission’s operations in South Ossetia, in respect of UN observers in Abkhazia Moscow was trying to achieve a solution “reflecting new realities” established after the August war, in particular its recognition of the two breakaway region’s independence.
Georgia said for number of times that territorial integrity was its “red line” it would not accept any solution crossing that line.
“We have kept our promise – although regretting about closure of the UN mission, the Georgian diplomacy has not been and will never be the part of a solution, which may question even a bit our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Grigol Vashadze, the Georgian foreign minister, said on June 16.
“The Georgian diplomacy, with the help of our western partners, has managed to prevent even a slight erosion of our territorial integrity and sovereignty with the help of our western partner and Russia had to resort to the right of veto,” Temur Iakobashvili, Georgian state minister for reintegration issues, said on June 16.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a written statement on June 16: "Russia's veto will be conducive to increased instability and further human rights violations in the occupied Georgian regions, as the last international instrument to check the uncontrolled Russian military presence in the occupied Georgian regions has been removed."
Russia was pushing for a draft resolution envisaging creation of “a new security mechanisms” in Abkhazia, which were mainly based on the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recent report on the situation in the region. Russia’s proposal contained no reference to Georgia’s territorial integrity.
The U.S. and European Security Council members sponsored a draft calling for a two-week extension of the UN mission’s mandate to allow diplomats to further continue consultations on a more comprehensive resolution. The western proposed draft also made an indirect reaffirmation of Georgia’s territorial integrity by referring in the text to the Security Council 1808 resolution of April, 2008.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN envoy, criticized the draft and the western, as he put it, “stubbornness” to put a reference to 1808 resolution, which reaffirms Security Council members support towards the Georgia’s territorial integrity.
Churkin said that Moscow was ready for “a compromise” solution by adopting a technical roll-over resolution simply extending the mission’s mandate till July 15 and making a reference “to all the relevant resolutions” without indicating and specifying the resolutions by its numbers.
The vote in the Security Council was 10-1 with four abstentions — China, Vietnam, Libya and Uganda.
“I think Moscow should make serious conclusions, because Russia’s isolation increases more and more every day and its diplomacy is confronting the entire civilized world by protecting something which is impossible to protect; Moscow tries to protect the notion that it is possible to redraw state borders unilaterally, to invade a sovereign state and to conduct ethnic cleansing in the 21st century,” Grigol Vashadze, the Georgian Foreign Minister said.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said the United States "deeply regrets" the Russian veto and reiterated the strong U.S. commitment to Georgia's territorial integrity.
“Extending the mandate would have allowed the U.N. to continue to carry out its role in monitoring the ceasefire, addressing security and humanitarian concerns on the ground, and helping create the conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons,” DiCarlo said.
The U.S. “will now consider measures to address a Georgia without a U.N. presence,” including possibly bolstering the similar EU monitoring mission to Georgia, she said. "In the meantime, it is the civilian population that suffers by facing a tenuous security environment without an international presence in Abkhazia, Georgia,” she added.
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said after the Council session: "We cannot and we will not compromise on the territorial integrity of Georgia."
Speaking to reporters after the resolution was voted, Thomas Matussek, Germany’s ambassador to the UN, expressed the European Union's “deep disappointment” over Moscow adamant objections.
“Unfortunately and regrettably the Russian veto put an end to that [UNOMIG]. It also put an end to the 15 years of the presence of the UN mission in Georgia to the detriment of the many people on the ground who need the UN for humanitarian reasons to safeguard their physical security, for the safe and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees,” Thomas Matussek, Germany’s ambassador to the UN, said after the vote.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement on June 16: “Russia has used its presence on the Security Council to pursue its own narrow interests.”
“This mission was helping defuse tension and deter further conflict. Its withdrawal will affect the day-to-day lives of people living in conflict areas,” he said. “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.”
With the UN and OSCE missions departing, the only international presence remaining in Georgia is EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM). Although having the mandate to monitor situation in both of the breakaway regions, EUMM has no access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia and conduct observation only in the areas adjacent to those regions.
“We hope that sooner or later they [European monitors] will be able to enter into the occupied territories,” Temur Iakobashvili said on June 16. “When it happens I do not know; Russia is not giving EU monitors an access to the occupied territories and by doing so Moscow is directly in contravention of the Sarkozy agreement [August 12 and September 12 ceasefire accords].”
Sergey Shamba, the foreign minister of breakaway Abkhazia, said that Sokhumi would not suffer from the closure of the UN observation mission.
“We see our major security guarantee in relations and military cooperation with Russia,” a local news agency in Abkhazia, Apsnipress, reported quoting Shamba as saying on June 16. ”We and Russia were in favour of extending the work of the United Nations mission in Abkhazia, but on condition it have a new mandate with a new name and new formulation, not linking Abkhazia to Georgia."
Stanislav Lakoba, secretary of the Abkhaz national security council, said last week that the UN Security Council discussions would be “a moment of truth” for Abkhazia.
“If the references is again made to the previous resolutions, that would mean that from the legal point of view Abkhazia remains within the Georgian state for next 15-20 years, no matter how veiled it may be presented [in the new resolution]. In this case, we would better reject the UN mission’s presence here,” Lakoba said.
A Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group said in a report released last November that senior Abkhaz officials had privately told Western diplomats that they would like the UN observers “to stay on in some capacity, so they are not left solely with Russian troops”.