April 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 March 2008
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EUROPE

Georgia

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) which expires on 15 April.

The Council will discuss the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Abkhazia in early April and is likely to be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jean Arnault. Options to improve confidence-building efforts as well as possibilities for strengthening UNOMIG’s patrolling capacity are likely to be discussed.

Key Recent Developments
Russia on 6 March withdrew from the sanctions regime that had been established in 1996 by the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to put pressure on Abkhazia. Russia announced to the CIS that “by reason of a change in the circumstances” it was no longer bound to ban trade, economic, financial and transport ties with Abkhazia. Georgia described Russia’s action as an “overt attempt” to infringe on its sovereignty and territorial integrity and create a “threat of destabilization.” Both countries outlined their positions in letters circulated as UN documents. The US and the EU expressed concern at Russia’s move and support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. There are also concerns that the lifting of sanctions might lead to more weapons flowing into the area.

On 7 March, Abkhazia called on Russia, the UN, the EU and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to recognise its independence.

NATO members remain undecided about a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia—the first step to NATO membership. Georgia’s handling of opposition protests late last year affected its reputation with some NATO members. The issue is expected to be on the agenda during the NATO summit in Bucharest on 2-3 April. Russia’s incoming president, Dmitry Medvedev, on 25 March spoke out against NATO membership for Georgia. Russia has also warned that giving Georgia NATO membership would push Russia to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia’s Duma on 13 March recommended that the Russian government open “missions” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Moldova’s Transdnestr region. On 21 March, it adopted a nonbinding declaration urging the Kremlin to consider “the question of expediency of recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” thus moving closer but still stopping short of an outright call for formal recognition. In his 18 March meeting with the Secretary-General, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili discussed implications of Kosovo’s declaration of independence on Georgia.

Earlier in the year there had been hopes that relations between Georgia and Russia would improve. Following his re-election in the 5 January snap presidential election, Saakashvili showed willingness to mend ties with Moscow. On 21 February, he met Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the informal CIS summit. This ended on a positive note with both sides expressing hope for better relations. A promising sign was that airline service recently resumed after being suspended last year.

The Group of Friends of the Secretary-General of Georgia met in Geneva on 18-19 February. (The Group consists of France, Germany, Russia, the UK and US. Croatia, as the newly elected Eastern European Council member, will attend meetings in New York.)

Following a visit to Georgia at the end of February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, voiced concern about conditions in detention facilities and asked for results of an official inquiry into the crackdown on protestors last November to be made public.

Options
The most likely option is a six-month mandate renewal with no change to UNOMIG’s mandate. The Council may include language urging both sides to exercise restraint and to look for creative ways of bringing about a political settlement.

Key Issues
A key issue is whether Russia’s decision to unilaterally lift CIS sanctions on Abkhazia will result in Georgia showing less flexibility.

Another key issue is whether the more tense environment will heighten the risk of conflict between Georgian and Abkhaz forces. Some observers believe that Georgia’s behaviour has been constrained by its desire for NATO membership. If NATO membership looks unlikely in the near future, Georgia may have less cause to hold back when faced with Abkhaz provocation. With the end of winter, there are also concerns that the potential for open conflict is likely to rise.

Another issue is whether in these circumstances UNOMIG has the resources to fulfil its mandate. Unmanned aerial vehicles have been discussed but the Abkhaz side has raised questions about possible misuse of these vehicles.

A continuing question is whether the Council can do more to break the political deadlock. Related to this is Georgia’s request for a review of the peace process. The Secretariat is undertaking an internal assessment of UNOMIG’s role and may be able to offer some suggestions later this year.

Council Dynamics
Last year, Kosovo overshadowed the issues in Georgia. Now there is awareness that the Georgian situation needs greater attention, particularly if Abkhazia continues to push for independence. Many members are expecting tough discussions on the resolution given the current mood in the Council on questions of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia may push for a briefing from a representative from Abkhazia to participate in a closed session. This would meet resistance from the US, which strongly supports Georgia’s position. However, past US-Russia clashes over participation issues relating to Kosovo may influence positions on this issue. (In the end, solutions were found that allowed both Serbians and Kosovars to participate.) As with the Kosovo issue, it is likely that a number of non-permanent members will prefer to remain on the sidelines rather than get caught up in this issue.

UN Documents

Latest Security Council Resolution

  • S/RES/1781 (15 October 2007) extended UNOMIG until 15 April 2008.

Selected Secretary-General’s Report

  • S/2008/38 (23 January 2008) was the latest Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Abkhazia.

Selected Letters to the President of the Council

  • S/2008/168 (S/2008/168 (10 March 2008) was the letter from Russia on its withdrawal from the regime of restrictions on Abkhazia.
  • S/2008/167 (7 March 2008) was the letter from Georgia conveying its reaction to Russia‘s withdrawal from the regime of restrictions.


Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission

Jean Arnault (France)

UNOMIG: Size and Composition

· Authorised strength as of 31 January 2009: 149 total uniformed personnel, including 131 military observers and 18 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