March 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 24 February 2006
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Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which expires on 31 March. However, this may require adopting another technical rollover.
Key Facts
On 31 January, the Council adopted a technical rollover of UNOMIG. It was triggered by Russian objections to standard UN language reaffirming the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and supporting a political solution for the inclusion of Abkhazia within Georgia’s boundaries. (See our Update Report of 2 February 2006 for details.)

This development has been associated with the deterioration in Russian-Georgian relations. But Russian President Vladimir Putin also linked the issue to Kosovo, warning that Russia could recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The “Group of Friends” held a regular meeting in Geneva on 2-3 February as part of the peace process. The meeting also aimed at breaking the UNOMIG deadlock. The issue seemed to have taken a positive turn when the chairman’s statement restated the traditional UN language. (The “Friends” are comprised of the US, the UK, France, Germany and Russia, and Slovakia in the Council.)

But on 15 February the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution recommending the replacement of peacekeepers in South Ossetia with an international force. It is widely seen as a preview of the position it may take when it reviews the status of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia (deployed through the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS) by 15 July. However:

  • The resolution is reportedly not binding on the Executive. The Georgian government has not indicated its final decision, and the Kremlin has indicated opposition to withdrawal. But Georgia has consistently voiced frustration with Russian policies, equating them to de facto annexation.
  • South Ossetians and Abkhazians signed a mutual defence pact and have opposed the replacement of Russian troops.

The 2,000 CIS troops operate checkpoints in the demilitarised security zone and provide security for UN personnel, while the 122 UNOMIG observers patrol that zone, the restricted weapons zone and other areas. UNOMIG resolutions have highlighted that the mission is subject to review “in the event of changes in the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force”.

Key Issues
The key issue is achieving agreement on the language of the resolution so that UNOMIG has a sustainable basis for continued deployment.

Council Dynamics
There is consensus on the renewal of UNOMIG. The stumbling block is overcoming Russian objections to the language of the resolution.

There has never been any appetite to truly internationalise peacekeeping in the region, possibly in recognition of the sensitivity of Russian interests towards the former Soviet republics.

Because Tbilisi has tried to tone down the tension created by the parliamentary resolution after pressure from the “Friends” and because of the positive indications in the Geneva statement, there is some optimism in the Council that the crisis can be defused.

However, there are still uncertainties about the Russian position.  A compromise on the UNOMIG resolution by 31 March may be difficult and another technical rollover may be needed. But there is anxiety, especially within the UN, about the possible lack of a regular mandate for an extended period of time.

Most members of the Council will support the traditional language reaffirming sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China will be concerned about the implications of Russia challenging traditional UN support for the territorial integrity of states. Other Council members, particularly Greece, will be aware of the implications for other stalled situations before the Council such as Cyprus.

It is likely therefore that the issue will remain in the “Group of Friends” until a solution is found, rather than coming before the full Council.

At the time of writing, the likely option is another technical rollover of UNOMIG, given the uncertainties surrounding the final Russian position on the matter. Another option, however, would be a regular resolution including some sort of compromise language that still indicates Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Underlying Problems
In the absence of progress on the final political status of Abkhazia, peace talks have focused on:

  • adopting a package of decisions on the return of Georgian IDPs, particularly to the Gali sector in Abkhazia, and on the non-use of force;
  • opening a UNOMIG human rights sub-office and the deployment of UNOMIG police in Gali, opposed by Abkhazia; and
  • resuming the use of the Georgian-language in schools in Abkhazia.

Georgia is refraining from accepting a document on non-use of force until it sees guarantees on the return of IDPs to Abkhazia and improvements in human rights, particularly in the Gali sector. Abkhazia is keen on achieving progress on non-use of force before accepting the rest, and is anxious about Georgia’s bid to join NATO.

The last meeting of the “Friends” seems to have identified support for moving away from the paper on “Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sokhumi” as the basis for substantive negotiations.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1656 (31 January 2006) extended UNOMIG’s mandate until 31 March 2006.
  • S/RES/1077 (22 October 1996) created a UN human rights office.
  • S/RES/937 (27 July 1994) expanded UNOMIG’s mandate.
  • S/RES/881 (4 November 1993) approved an interim reduction in UNOMIG’s mandate.
  • S/RES/858 (24 August 1993) established UNOMIG.
 Selected Secretary-General’s Reports
  • S/2006/19 (13 January 2006) was the latest report.
  • S/1994/818 (12 July 1994) contained recommendations for UNOMIG’s mandate.
  • S/1994/80 (25 January 1994) contained options for UN presence on the ground, including the deployment of UNOMIG as an observer force together with a multinational peacekeeping operation.
 Selected Letters
  • S/1994/583 (17 May 1994) contained the Moscow Ceasefire Agreement.
  • S/1994/397 (05 April 1994) contained the declaration on measures for the settlement of the conflict and the quadripartite agreement.
  • S/1994/32 (14 January 1994) contained a communiqué from the parties detailing their acceptance of the deployment of peacekeepers with a Russian contingent.

For historical background please refer to the January 2006 Forecast Report.

Other Relevant Facts 

 Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission 
  Heidi Tagliavini (Switzerland)
 Size and Composition of Mission
  • Size as of 31 January 2006:134 total uniformed personnel, including 122 military observers
  • Main contributors: Germany, Pakistan, Jordan
 August 1993 to present
 1 July 2005 – 30 June 2006: $36.38 million (gross)
 Other Facts
 Size of CIS troops: about 2,000; Contributors: Russia

Useful Additional Sources

  • Mackinlay, John and Cross, Peter (eds.), Regional Peacekeepers: The Paradox of Russian Peacekeeping (New York: UN University Press, 2003)
  • Georgia: What Now?, International Crisis Group Europe Report, no. 151 (3 December 2003)
  • Georgia: Avoiding War in South Ossetia, International Crisis Group Europe Report, no. 159 (26 November 2004)
  • Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) website
  • UNOMIG website 
  • Georgian parliament website