July 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 June 2008
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EUROPE

Georgia

Expected Council Action
In July the Council expects the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on Georgia and a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jean Arnault. No Council action is required.

In addition, the Secretary-General may brief members on findings from the Secretariat’s current assessment of the peace process. This could lead to discussion of the implications of the findings and next steps.

The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG)’s mandate will expire on 15 October.

Key Recent Developments
On 30 May, the Council met at the request of Georgia to discuss the UNOMIG report on the downing of an unmanned aerial vehicle on 20 April. (Please see our Update Report of 29 May 2008 for further details.) The Georgian representative demanded official explanations, compensation, and a commitment to restrain from provocative acts. Russia questioned the evidence used in UNOMIG’s investigation.

On 31 May, Russia deployed a military unit to repair Abkhazia’s rail and road infrastructure. Georgia saw this action as preparation of infrastructure for possible military intervention. Russia described it as a humanitarian action aimed at improving people’s lives. The Russian action drew criticism from the US and NATO.

On 5 June, Georgia suspended flights of unmanned aerial vehicles over Abkhazia but reserved the right to restart them.

In the last few months there have been several attempts at quiet diplomacy.

  • In early May, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Bryza, visited Sukhumi to encourage both sides to rejuvenate the real peace process.
  • On 12 May, Georgia’s UN ambassador, Irakli Alasania, held the first direct talks with Abkhaz leaders in Sukhumi. He proposed taking small steps by discussing areas of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s April peace proposal like the return of displaced Georgians and the creation of free economic zones in Gali and Ochamchire.
  • Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative, visited Tbilisi and Sukhumi in early June seeking to “lower the temperature” and encourage a resumption of direct Georgian-Abkhaz talks. He said that the EU would take a more active role.
  • EU ambassadors in early June called for a resumption of dialogue without preliminary conditions.

The US, UK, Germany and France met in mid-June to discuss ways of encouraging dialogue between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. A meeting of the full Group of Friends (which also includes Russia) is expected before the Council discusses the UNOMIG report in July.

Georgia on 17 June arrested four Russian soldiers suspected of transporting weapons without proper documentation. They were released the next day.

Options
Council options include:

  • no action;
  • a press statement urging the parties to refrain from acts of violence or provocation, to respect the Moscow agreement and to take steps to deescalate the situation; and
  • approval of recommendations that might emerge from the Secretariat’s internal assessment if that is complete.

Key Issues
A key issue is whether the Council can at this stage play any role in revitalising the negotiating process.

A related issue is how to deescalate the tit-for-tat diplomacy and accumulating grievances so that brinkmanship does not spill over into armed hostilities.

A key procedural issue in July may be the format for and participation at the briefing. As a party to the conflict, Georgia is likely to ask to attend. But Russia may want a representative from Abkhazia to participate. Attendance by Abkhaz representatives has been controversial in the past. This issue might come up during the discussions in early July on the Council’s programme of work. Recent Kosovo precedents are likely to be discussed in detail.

Council Dynamics
Russia and the US continue to be the most active members on this issue. Council members like the UK and France, part of the Group of Friends, are also active. But most other members are keeping a low profile.

Despite the escalating tensions and increased potential for conflict, the Council has remained essentially disengaged. Solana’s recent visit may indicate that European non-permanent members will take a keener interest.

There seems to be growing support for Russia’s proposal that an Abhkaz representative should participate in some way. Members like Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam and Panama agree that having representatives from both sides is in line with best practice for Council working methods. Both the Serbian and Kosovo representatives participated in discussions on Kosovo in June and this has led to a feeling that the Council should avoid double standards. It remains to be seen if agreement can be reached or even if this issue may be put to a procedural vote. If the latter, those supporting Russia’s request might prevail.

UN Documents

Latest Security Council Resolution

  • S/RES/1808 (15 April 2008) extended UNOMIG until 15 October 2008.

Selected Secretary-General’s Report

  • S/2008/219 (2 April 2008) was the latest Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Abkhazia.

Selected Letters to the President of the Council

  • S/2008/342 (27 May 2008) was the letter from Georgia asking for a meeting of the Council.
  • S/2008/299 (5 May 2008) was the letter from Georgia stating that drones were downed on 4 May 2008.
  • 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 30 April 2008: 151 total uniformed personnel, including 133 military observers and 18 police
  • Key troop contributors: Germany, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Duration

August 1993 to present

Cost

1 July 2007-30 June 2008: $35 million (gross)

Other Facts

Size of CIS troops: about 2500 Russian troops

Useful Additional Source

Georgia and Russia: Clashing Over Abkhazia, Europe Report No. 193, International Crisis Group, 5 June 2008

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