October 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 September 2008
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Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to consider in October a report on the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the mission’s future. (The mission’s mandate expires on 15 October.)

Russia has requested an Arria meeting with participation of representatives from Abkhazia and South Ossetia ahead of the Council meeting on UNOMIG’s mandate. An international conference to discuss the crisis in Georgia is also scheduled to take place on 15 October in Geneva. The Council is unlikely to make any major decisions before the Geneva meeting. A technical rollover of the mandate is therefore a possibility.

At press time a Russian resolution seeking an arms embargo against Georgia, circulated in early September, had yet to be discussed. (Two draft resolutions from August, one by France and the other by Russia, are theoretically still on the table but have been overtaken by events.)

Key Recent Developments
EU leaders met on 1 September to discuss the situation in Georgia. They expressed grave concern over the conflict in Georgia. They criticised the reaction of Russia as disproportionate and described Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as “unacceptable”. They rejected calls by some for sanctions on Russia, but did decide to suspend negotiations on a new strategic partnership with Moscow.

At the EU summit, the European Commission agreed to donate to Georgia about $8 million. EU member states agreed to contribute another $13 million. The US in early September announced a $1 billion aid package to Georgia.

Russian troops remained in Georgia nearly a month after the six-point agreement of 12 August had specified the withdrawal of Russian forces to the line prior to 7 August 2008. On 8 September, an EU delegation, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy representing the EU presidency, went to Moscow to seek agreement on Russian compliance with the commitment to withdraw troops from Georgia. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev agreed that checkpoints around Poti and Senaki would be closed within a week following a meeting with President Sarkozy. By 13 September, Russia had withdrawn troops from these areas. Medvedev also agreed that all troops would pull-out of Georgia once 200 EU monitors are deployed on 1 October. Russia has said that it will keep 3,800 troops each in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

On 9 September Russia called for a meeting of the Security Council and circulated a draft resolution calling for a UN arms embargo against Georgia. The draft resolution expresses deep concern at the “excessive increase in Georgia’s military expenditures” and the acquisition of armaments beyond Georgia’s national defence requirements.

Russia has said that “under the current circumstances it would be impossible” to hold a Council meeting to extend UNOMIG’s mandate in Abkhazia without the participation of the official representative of Abkhazia. (In the past the US has declined visas for such representatives to come to the UN.)

On 15 September the EU foreign ministers approved an observer mission of 200 to be deployed to Georgia by 1 October as agreed between President Sarkozy and President Medvedev.

Negotiations over the deployment in South Ossetia of 100 observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) broke down on 18 September. OSCE had agreed in principle to send the monitors, and twenty were immediately deployed. (There had been eight OSCE monitors on the ground before the conflict.) Russia has now said that it will not allow OSCE monitors into South Ossetia and that local authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia should have a say on any OSCE mandate as the territories are independent.

Georgia filed a complaint at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 12 August against Russia for violating the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination by supporting ethnic cleansing of Georgians. It is seeking a provisional order for Russia to halt such actions pending a full hearing of the case. The ICJ heard arguments on the application for provisional measures from 8 to 10 September. Russia has challenged the Court’s jurisdiction and asked it to dismiss Georgia’s application outright. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.

On 18 September, Russia signed treaties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia guaranteeing them protection in case of attack. (Russia had established diplomatic relations with the governments in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali on 9 September. Nicaragua is the only other country that has recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia.)

A renewal of UNOMIG with its current mandate is a possible option but seems unlikely given the drastically changed circumstances. Russia argues that even the name of the mission is no longer accurate.

A more likely option is a technical rollover of a few months so that a new mandate for UNOMIG can be worked out. The Secretary-General has indicated that this is currently his preferred option. However, there may be problems securing agreement on the language of the rollover resolution. The usual practice with technical resolutions is to refer to past resolutions. Russia seems likely to object that the provisions of past resolutions referring to Georgia’s territorial integrity are no longer valid. The US is likely to seek to retain them. An option is to craft language which is non-prejudicial to either sides’ position.

If there is no agreement, even on a technical rollover, UNOMIG’s mandate would lapse leading to the withdrawal of the mission soon afterwards.

A possible option is for the Council to agree to terminate UNOMIG and set up a new political mission with a mandate tailored to the new circumstances and perhaps relating to the lines between Georgia and both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This would be a longer term endeavour and is unlikely to be achievable in two weeks.

Other options include:

  • setting up a fact-finding mission to investigate the origins of the conflict;
  • requesting the Secretary-General to provide a plan for reconfiguring UNOMIG to suit the current circumstances; and
  • initiating a larger role for the UN in the international talks (the curious absence of UN leadership has been noted by some observers).

Key Issues
The key issue is whether a UN mission has a role under the new circumstances and if so, overcoming the polarised positions on issues including territorial integrity.

Another issue is where any observers would be deployed. The Russians do not want EU or OSCE observers in South Ossetia or Abkhazia. The EU and OSCE feel that without access to those two regions it would be difficult for them to do their job. It remains to be seen if there would be greater flexibility regarding UN observers.

A related issue is protection for UN personnel. Security had in the past been provided by Russian peacekeepers. But now that these are no longer seen as a neutral party, this creates operational problems for the UN—at least until the Council agrees on new arrangements.

An underlying issue is the stability of the wider Caucasus region. Use of force by both sides in the Georgian conflict and Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has made former Soviet states in the region nervous. There is concern that unresolved conflicts in disputed territories like Nagorno-Karabakh could be stirred up.

Also of concern is Georgia’s internal stability. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was re-elected earlier this year. But it is unclear how, over the medium-term, the loss of the two territories will play out and whether it will lead to a consolidation of support for his nationalistic position or disillusionment.

A procedural issue is whether US visas will be given to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian representatives to attend the expected informal Council Arria meeting. Some observers believe that the US might provide the visas in return for Russia not pushing for their participation at the formal Council meeting. (In the end this was the deal done over a similar issue regarding representatives from Kosovo when the US-Russian positions were reversed on Kosovo. Over the last couple of years the procedural issues evolved from initially having the Kosovars at Arria meetings to closed formal meetings and then to open formal meetings. Please see our July 2008 Forecast for more details.)

Council and Wider Dynamics
The Council’s exchanges on this issue have showed a hardening of positions with each meeting. Outside of the Council, US-Russia relations continued to deteriorate as both sides exchanged accusations. The US claimed that Russia’s main aim in attacking Georgia was to overthrow the Georgian president. Russia has suggested that Georgia received the support of the US in its attack on South Ossetia.

China seems to be cautious about any action that would endorse Abkhaz or South Ossetian independence. The European members, particularly France, continue to be actively engaged. However, at this stage there does not appear to be enthusiasm for Council decisions. (Perhaps some are relishing the fact that the current situation gives the EU the leadership.)

A number of elected members seem disappointed that the Council has not been active on this issue and that the UN generally has been out of sight.

Germany as the lead country in the Group of Friends has shown keen interest in being more involved, but there appears to be a limited role for the Group of Friends at this juncture.

There seems to be some level of agreement that the UN should retain a presence in Georgia, but most members see it as too early to have firm positions on the form that any new mission should take. Russia seems to envisage a political mission that would serve to protect Abkhazians from Georgia and to help with peacebuilding issues. Members that hope to see a larger role for the UN in the future see importance in the short-term in retaining the limited presence of UNOMIG.

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UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions
  • S/2008/570 (21 August 2008) was the draft resolution circulated by Russia.
  • S/RES/1808 (15 April 2008) extended UNOMIG until 15 October 2008.

Selected Letters to the President of the Security Council

  • S/2008/561 (19 August 2008) was the letter from France requesting a meeting of the Council on 19 August.
    S/2008/562 (16 August 2008) was the letter from Georgia on events occurring during the conflict.
  • S/2008/557 (15 August 2008) contained the appeal of the parliament of Georgia to the international community.
  • S/2008/545 (11 August 2008) was a letter from Russia stating its position on the conflict.
  • S/2008/544 (9 August 2008) was the letter from Georgia circulating information on its declaration of a state of war.
  • S/2008/543 (9 August 2008) were the statements by the Georgian Foreign Ministry.
  • S/2008/519 (1 August 2008) was the letter from the president of the Council informing the Secretary-General that the Council has taken note of his intention to appoint Verbeke.
  • S/2008/518 (30 July 2008) was the letter from the Secretary-General informing the Council of his intention to appoint Johan Verbeke as his Special Representative for Georgia and head of UNOMIG.

Selected Security Council Meeting Records

  • S/PV.5969 (28 August) was the meeting on 28 August.
  • S/PV.5961 (19 August 2008) was the meeting on 19 August.
  • S/PV.5953 (10 August 2008) was the meeting on 10 August.
  • S/PV.5952 (8 August 2008) was the meeting in the afternoon of 8 August.
  • S/PV.5951 (8 August 2008) was the meeting in the early hours of 8 August.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission

  • Johan Verbeke (Belgium)

Size and Composition

  • Authorised strength as of 31 August 2008: 140 total uniformed personnel, including 126 military observers and 14 police
  • Key troop-contributors: Germany, Pakistan and Bangladesh


August 1993 to present


1 July 2008-30 June 2009: $36.08 million (gross)

Other Facts

Size of CIS troops: about 2,500 Russian troops

Useful Additional Sources

Letter from French President Sarkozy to Georgian President Saakashvili of 16 August 2008
Full forecast

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