January 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 21 December 2007
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EUROPE

Georgia

Expected Council Action
In January, the Council is expected to receive the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Abkhazia and be briefed by his Special Representative Jean Arnault. Although no decision is required at this stage, members are likely to be focusing on the heightened tension in the region and the implications for UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG). In October the Council asked the Secretary-General to report on progress made in supporting the parties in implementing confidence-building measures and establishing intensive and meaningful dialogue.

UNOMIG’s mandate expires on 15 April 2008.

Key Recent Developments
The domestic situation in Georgia has been tense in recent months. In response to the firing in September of Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili, opposition groups challenged President Mikhail Saakashvili’s governing style and protested about the uneven benefits of the economic boom. On 7 November, 50,000 people took to the streets of Tbilisi demanding an early presidential election. The police cracked down using tear gas and rubber bullets. Many were injured. Following the protests the Georgian parliament announced a 15-day state of emergency that restricted public gatherings and cut off private news broadcasts.

The state of emergency was lifted ahead of schedule on 16 November after strong pressure from the US and the EU. The ban on the private television station Imedi (part-owned by Rupert Murdoch and Badri Patarkatsishvili, a leading critic of Saakashvili’s government and a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections) was not lifted until 6 December.

Saakashvili’s assertion that Russia had been involved in stirring up civil strife strained relations further between Moscow and Tbilisi. Georgia expelled three diplomats from the Russian embassy in Tbilisi. Russia countered by expelling three Georgian diplomats in Moscow. Russia’s decision to allow residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to vote in Russia’s December parliamentary elections added to Georgia’s list of grievances.

Saakashvili conceded to the demand for early elections, which will be held on 5 January. He resigned on 25 November to run as a candidate. Nino Burjanadze, the speaker of parliament, took over as interim president. In another sign of the deteriorating Moscow-Tbilisi relationship, Georgia said that it will not invite Russian observers or the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to monitor the January presidential elections.

Lado Gurgenidze, the interim prime minister appointed after the state of emergency, on 5 December cited social tensions as a major factor in the demonstrations that led to a state of emergency. He downplayed the earlier allegations of a Russian role in the rallies.

On 29 November, Georgian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs George Manjgaladze met the permanent representatives of the Secretary-General’s Group of Friends of Georgia (France, Germany, Russia, the UK, the US and in New York, Slovakia) in Tbilisi and provided information on the return of internally displaced persons and refugees. He also discussed the situation in Abkhazia with UN Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe.

On 25 October, the first high-level contact between Tbilisi and Sukhumi (the Abkhaz capital), took place when David Bakradze, the Georgian state minister for conflict resolution issues, and Sergey Shamba, the Abkhaz de facto foreign minister, met to discuss the 20 September clash between Georgian Interior Ministry forces and an Abkhaz military unit in which seven Abkhaz militiamen were captured. Georgia agreed to hand over Abkhaz personnel, and both sides agreed that the quadripartite meetings, last held in November 2006, should be resumed. On 27 October, Georgia released the militiamen to UNOMIG. (The quadripartite sessions bring together representatives from the Georgian and Abkhaz sides, along with Russian peacekeepers and UNOMIG, to discuss ongoing developments in the conflict zone.)

Boris Gryzlov, head of Russia’s largest political party, United Russia, has said that Abkhazia and South Ossetia could be given formal diplomatic recognition by January 2008 or sooner, depending on development of events in Kosovo.

On 12 December, the Secretary-General called for “calm and restraint” in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. He had taken note of the allegations made by both sides about potential threats and the increase in armed forces in the zone of conflict and the Kodori Valley, but said that UNOMIG had not been able to corroborate the claims so far.

Options
The Council has the following options:

  • take no action;
  • issue a statement in the context of the presidential elections if the security situation deteriorates significantly in January;
  • renew its support for the quadripartite meetings and call for improved monitoring in the zone of conflict if the post-election period seems positive; and
  • request the Secretary-General to provide a report with suggestions on how to re-energise the peace process, for discussion in April.

Key Issues
The immediate key issue is whether the January election will lead to a calming of tensions or possibly trigger further destabilisation. Although Imedi was allowed back on air on 12 December, its month-long closure affected perceptions of press freedom in the lead up to the elections. Other concerns include fears of vote-rigging in the provinces and lack of transparency in campaign financing.

An issue is the cost of providing the necessary equipment to ensure better monitoring in the zone of conflict. UNOMIG has completed its feasibility study for the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles and artillery radar, and there are clear budgetary implications, although members supported the idea when it was raised in October. (Initial estimates indicate a budget increase of between 10 to 20 percent.)

An underlying question is the effect of a possible unilateral declaration of independence from Kosovo. If Russia acted on past hints that it might recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the impact on Georgia could be a heightened sense of nationalism, perhaps overriding current domestic political differences.

Another issue is whether there is any way for the Council to do more to get both sides to implement the confidence-building measures endorsed in resolution 1752 and to encourage greater political dialogue. (Political dialogue has been suspended since July 2006. See our 12 October 2006 Update Report.)

A related issue is whether the Council should initiate a review of the peace process, and how this should be done.

Council Dynamics
The key Council players continue to be the US and Russia with some European members taking a keen interest. Positions have become more entrenched over time and recent developments in other regional situations (Kosovo and Bosnia) have added complications.

Members now brace themselves for a tense discussion whenever Georgia is on the Council’s agenda. However, Russia in October surprised many members by having few objections to the UNOMIG mandate renewal resolution.

Elected members have traditionally taken a back seat, especially since much discussion takes place outside the Council by the Group of Friends (which is led by non-Council member Germany). While still preferring not to become too involved, some non-permanent members may now be seeking to pay more attention to the issue.

UN Documents

Latest Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1781 (15 October 2007) extended UNOMIG until 15 April 2008.
  • S/RES/1752 (13 April 2007) endorsed proposals for confidence-building measures.

Selected Secretary-General’s Report

  • S/2007/588 (3 October 2007) was the latest Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Abkhazia.

Selected Letters to the President of the Council

 
  • S/2007/605 (15 October 2007) was the letter from Georgia on the detention of members of an armed group.
  • S/2007/589 (3 October 2007) was the letter from Georgia on the 6 September attack on Georgian police.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission

Jean Arnault (France)

UNOMIG: Size and Composition

  • Authorised strength as of 30 September 2007: 147 total uniformed personnel, including 130 military observers and 17 police
  • Key troop contributors: Germany, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Duration

August 1993 to present

Cost

1 July 2007 – 30 June 2008: $36.71 million (gross)

Other Facts

Size of CIS troops: about 1,800 Russian troops

Full forecast