A former senior OSCE official in Georgia, who created quite a stir in Tbilisi more than five years ago over his reporting on start of the August 2008 war, is again a source of controversy after the EU recruited him as deputy head of its monitoring mission in Georgia.
A former British Army officer, Ryan Grist, served as deputy head of OSCE mission in Georgia, which also had a field office in Tskhinvali, when the war broke out in August 2008. His controversial and unauthorized trip to breakaway South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali during the hostilities on August 12, 2008 cost him his job. When in November, 2008 he gave interviews to some major Western media outlets, accusing Georgia of “completely indiscriminate and disproportionate” attack on Tskhinvali on August 7 2008, some Georgian officials at the time suggested he was a Russian spy, whose account was part of Russia’s “propaganda”.
In late January, 2014 Grist joined EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) as its deputy head; the mission, which was deployed after the 2008 war, has over 200 unarmed monitors observing ceasefire without being able to enter inside the breakaway regions.
On February 13 the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, which was in government five years ago, condemned Grist’s appointment in EUMM and called on the Georgian authorities to ensure that he leaves the country. Formally the Georgian authorities have no say whatsoever in EUMM’s staff recruitment issues.
“There is a reasonable suspicion that this person was cooperating with the Russian secret services,” UNM lawmaker Zurab Japaridze said. “Of course we believe that the EUMM is an important instrument for Georgia and it plays very important role for Georgia’s security… But we call on the Georgian authorities to use all the means at its disposal to ensure that Mr. Grits leaves not only the EUMM, but Georgia too.”
Head of the EUMM, Toivo Klaar, told Georgian television stations on February 13 that appointment of Ryan Grist as his deputy caused mixed reactions in Tbilisi. Klaar said that Grist was selected as a result of a very thorough vetting process and he was the best among the candidates; he also said he is confident Grist will be a good deputy head of mission.
Before joining EUMM, Grist served with the British Council as a manager of conflict-related programme in Nigeria. In 2010-2011 he served as a civilian stablisation advisors in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, recruited by the UK Foreign Office and the Department for International Development (DFID).
Breakaway South Ossetia’s minister for post-conflict resolution issues, Murat Jioev, who was foreign minister in 2008, told RFE/RL’s Russian-language Ekho Kavkaza on February 13 that Grist is a “very objective” person and wished him success in his new capacity in Georgia; he also reiterated Tskhinvali’s position that EUMM “has no mandate” over South Ossetia.