February 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 January 2009
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EUROPE

Georgia

Expected Council Action
Council action on Georgia is expected in February. The mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) expires on 15 February. Several options are being considered, from another technical rollover to a new mission mandate.

Gaining increasing support is the idea of a rollover and the possibility of an interim security regime which would more clearly define the security guidelines for the mission to operate in the changed environment. (UNOMIG was originally based on the 1994 ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia known as the Moscow agreement, which Georgia declared null and void on 29 August 2008.)

The Council is expecting the Secretary-General’s report on Abkhazia in early February and a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Georgia and UNOMIG’s head, Johan Verbeke, probably on 10 February.

Key Recent Developments
In October 2008, the Council agreed on a four month technical rollover for UNOMIG through resolution 1839. This represented a delicate compromise. Russia argued that the mission should be changed because Abkhazia had declared its independence and both the name of the mission and past resolutions incorporated references to the territorial integrity of Georgia became highly controversial. To finesse the issues and buy some time, the October resolution did not mention the name of the operation or the country of its deployment. Instead, it referred only to the “United Nations mission” and recalled all previous resolutions including resolution 1808, which on 15 April had extended UNOMIG until 15 October 2008.

Following the 12 August ceasefire agreement (a French mediated accord that called for internationally mediated talks focusing on security and stability and repatriation of refugees) there were three rounds of Geneva talks jointly chaired by the UN, EU and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 15 October, 18 November and 17-18 December. The next round is scheduled for 17-18 February. The first two meetings stalled over procedural issues relating to the participation of Abkhaz and South Ossetian officials. The meeting in December, however, began to focus on substantive issues such as proposals for joint incident prevention and response mechanisms, free movement of people through crossing points, and joint visits to sensitive areas. A working group discussed concrete steps to improve living conditions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, but there are still issues over guaranteed access for experts and delivery of humanitarian goods.

The OSCE mission in Georgia began shutting down on 1 January. Russia had vetoed an extension of this mission on 22 December on the grounds that South Ossetia was now an independent state and therefore the observer mission should be modified. Russia is suggesting two missions, one in South Ossetia and one in Georgia. On 15 January, Greece, which had taken over the OSCE chair on 1 January, presented a new initiative to Russia aimed at keeping the OSCE in South Ossetia. The Greek plan involves involvement from the OSCE Secretariat in Vienna, an OSCE mission to Tbilisi and a support mission in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.

On 16 January, a Georgian policeman was shot and killed while on duty near the South Ossetian administrative boundary line. The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia released a press statement which said that it saw the attack as a “totally unacceptable breach of the Sarkozy-Medvedev Agreements” under which all sides had agreed to end hostilities. It also said that the incident should be investigated on both sides of the South Ossetian administrative boundary.

Russia on 20 January warned that it would impose “special economic measures” against countries supplying weapons to Georgia. The Russian cabinet has been asked to work on the measures that would be taken against foreign nations, organisations and individuals that sell weapons to Georgia. (In September, Russia had circulated a draft Council resolution seeking an arms embargo against Georgia.)

On 9 January, the US and Georgia signed a bilateral charter on a strategic partnership aimed at increasing cooperation in defense, trade and energy. The agreement provides a roadmap for cooperation including US assistance to Georgia’s military to help it qualify for NATO membership.

In early December, Irakli Alasania resigned as Georgia’s ambassador to the UN. He issued a statement on 24 December accusing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of precipitating the armed conflict in August and calling on all “decent and patriotic persons” to join forces to avert the impending “crisis” and restore security, stability and prosperity. Alasania said he will not form a separate opposition party but appears likely to align himself with the opposition which is calling for early elections.

Options
Three possible options include:

  • a further technical rollover to allow for the mandate of a new mission to be developed;
  • a “rollover plus” which would include some form of guidance for the mission on an interim security framework and possibly include:
    • reference to former security agreements, including the August ceasefire agreement or if the intention is to be more detailed, language taken from the Moscow agreement;
    • provisions for IDPs; and
    • a more concrete role for the UN in the Geneva talks, highlighting ways the UN could work with the EU in Georgia
  • and a fully updated resolution with a comprehensive mandate for a new mission.

Although unlikely, a possible option is the shutting down of the mission if a P5 member decides to vote against all the above options.

Other options include:

  • requesting the Secretary-General to develop the criteria needed for the mission to operate safely and effectively in Abkhazia in the short term as a new mandate is being developed;
  • senior experts of the Council meeting with the Secretariat as a kind of joint working group to explore the needs of a new mission before developing a more comprehensive mandate; and
  • considering ways in which the UN could be supportive in the Caucasus in a more holistic manner.

Key Issues
The key immediate issue is providing the UN mission with some basis to operate in the changed environment from 15 February.

A second key issue is that the current situation puts UN peacekeepers at risk because Russian peacekeepers, which previously provided protection, have stopped this role in Abkhazia.

A related issue is how to develop a new mandate for the mission given the short time available and the diametrically opposed views among some Council members on core issues like territorial integrity.

Another issue is the risk arising from the presence of heavy weapons and military in the security zone and restricted weapons zone. There are reports of increased tensions and provocations along Georgia’s frontiers with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

An issue is whether the Geneva talks are sufficiently broad in focus to develop a political process that builds new confidence and prevents a renewed escalation of the conflict.

Also, assuming the OSCE has to completely withdraw in February and the EU observer mission on the Georgian border is not allowed into South Ossetia, a significant issue will be the lack of information on the situation in South Ossetia.

Connected to the withdrawal of the OSCE is the impact on the Geneva talks given that it was one of the co-chairs.

Of growing concern is the political stability of President Saakashvili’s government in the wake of the August conflict and subsequent declarations of independence from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. His judgment in precipitating the conflict with Russia has been called into question, as has his leadership style.

Council and Wider Dynamics
Both Georgia and Abkhazia have indicated that they support a UN presence. This sentiment is echoed by most Council members who appear keen that there should be a new UN mission set up. However, there are key differences over the type of mission envisaged. The US remains opposed to anything that implies a change of status or constitutes acceptance that Georgia’s territorial dimensions are in question. It prefers a technical rollover at this stage. (It remains to be seen whether there will be new policy directions from the Obama administration on Georgia and on relations with Russia.)

Russia continues to hold the position that Abkhazia is now independent and that the mission needs to be neutral as between Georgia and Abkhazia. It has suggested two missions, one in Tbilisi and one in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi. Although US-Russia relations have deteriorated recently, with the Georgia conflict leading to heated exchanges in the Council, there are some indications that Russia is also open to a rollover on the basis that this might give room for negotiations later in the context of a more improved bilateral relationship.

The European members of the Council support Georgia’s territorial integrity and follow developments with the EU mission in Georgia carefully. France continues to be actively engaged following its involvement on this issue during its EU presidency in the second half of 2008. But there is also an air of pragmatism. There is a sense that real movement on a new mission to replace UNOMIG can only happen if the US and Russia show some flexibility. Germany, while not a Council member, continues to play a role as the chair of the Group of Friends and is involved in producing the first draft of the resolution.

New members and those from outside the region appear to be waiting for the US and Russian positions to be more clearly defined. With the situation in the Middle East consuming so much energy in January, many members have not given much thought to Georgia. However, there is a growing awareness that this is not an issue that can be ignored for too long.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1839 (9 October 2008) extended UNOMIG until 15 February 2009.
  • S/RES/1808 (15 April 2008) extended UNOMIG until 15 October 2008.

Selected Secretary-General’s Report

  • S/2008/631 (3 October 2008) was the last report on of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission

Johan Verbeke (Belgium)

Size and Composition

  • Size as of 30 November 2008: 156 total uniformed personnel, including 137 military observers and 19 police
  • Key troop-contributors: Germany, Pakistan, and Bangladesh 30 October 2008: 102 international civilian personnel, 189 cal civilian staff and 1

Duration

August 1993 to present

Cost

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

Full forecast