The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which expires on 15 October.
On 11 October the Council will be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Georgia, Jean Arnault, on the report (expected in early October) of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia.
The Council was also scheduled to be briefed by the chairman of Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 28 September. The OSCE briefs the Council annually but this year there will be added interest in its report on the 6 August missile incident in Georgia. (Please see our Update Report of 23 August 2007.)
Key Recent Developments
The situation between Russia and Georgia deteriorated in August after Georgia claimed that a Russian aircraft had violated its airspace and a Russian-made missile was discovered in an area in Georgia near South Ossetia. The Georgian authorities claimed that their radar tracks showed the aircraft as having entered the airspace from Russia. Separate investigations by international and Russian experts yielded conflicting conclusions. The international experts concluded that while the missile was Russian-made, it was not possible to identify the aircraft from which it came. However, they confirmed that the aircraft had flown from Russian airspace. Russia suggested that Georgia had planted the missile.
The OSCE also conducted its own investigation. On 6 September it decided that it was difficult to determine what happened given the conflicting accounts. The OSCE proposed appointing a special envoy so that it could anticipate and respond quickly to any future incidents.
Internal tensions rose in September. On 20 September a clash between the Georgian Ministry of the Interior units and an Abkhaz military unit, led by Russian instructors, which reportedly left two dead, several wounded and a number taken prisoner, is being investigated by a Joint Fact-Finding Group led by UNOMIG. The Secretary-General has called for maximum restraint to avoid escalation of the situation. Russia raised this issue in the Council on 26 September.
On 5 September, Georgia complained to the Council about military exercises conducted by Abkhaz troops in Abkhazia. Its letter highlighted Russia’s role in training the troops and supplying their military equipment.
It seems that Georgia wants the Secretary-General to replace the current Group of Friends on Georgia with another mechanism. At the time of writing, the Group of Friends was expected meet in early October.
top • full forecast
One option is a simple six-month renewal of UNOMIG’s mandate. Given the lack of progress in the political process since the July 2006 upper Kodori Gorge incident, when Tbilisi sent troops into this region, and more recent incidents, like the March rocket firing and the August missile mystery, another option would be to renew UNOMIG but also include language designed to address the growing tension. In this regard, the following options could be considered:
asking the Secretary-General for recommendations on strengthening UNOMIG’s technical capability so that it can better respond to future incidents;
requesting the Secretary-General to suggest new mechanisms to lead the political process; and
encouraging the appointment of a high-level envoy to bring together the parties, and put in place more effective confidence-building mechanisms.
A key issue for the Council is whether to try to play an active role in defusing the rising tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow. This is complicated given Russia’s status in the Council as a permanent member.
A related issue is how to handle Tbilisi’s apparent request to the Secretary-General for replacing the Group of Friends with a new mechanism. A continuing issue from last year is Georgia’s calls to replace the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping forces by international contingents.
And related to both these issues is how best to restart the political process. The Coordinating Council made up of Abkhaz and Georgian representatives has not met since before the upper Kodori Gorge incident in July 2006.
Connections with the Kosovo issue continue to hover as possible linkages. Hints by Kosovo that it could declare independence by the end of the year are seen as an issue that could lead to parallel action by the Abkhaz authorities.
A key procedural issue is the format of the Council’s formal meeting to adopt the resolution. In July, when the last report was discussed, it took three days of discussions before the Council agreed to meet in a closed session after Russia objected to a normal open session on the basis that only one party to the conflict, Georgia (as a UN member), would have been able to participate.
Council and Wider Dynamics
There are clear divisions in the Council on this issue. The US has generally been very supportive of Georgia’s position while Russia tends to underpin the Abkhaz case. Widening of the Council’s focus on Georgia could meet with resistance from Russia unless it is accompanied by real balance in the approach. When Georgia asked the Council to meet to discuss the 6 August missile incident, some members including the US and UK were keen to take it up. However, it was decided that the Council should wait until all investigations were complete. Georgia is expected to pursue the issue vigorously.
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Joint Fact-Finding Group Report on the Rocket Firing Incident in the upper Kodori Valley, UNOMIG, 11 March 2007, http://www.unomig.org/