What's In Blue

Posted Tue 3 Aug 2021

Georgia: Meeting under “Any Other Business”

Tomorrow (4 August), Security Council members will discuss the situation in Georgia under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US, to mark the 13th anniversary of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and Americas Miroslav Jenča is expected to brief.

Background

Since its independence in 1991, Georgia has faced multiple internal secessionist movements, notably in South Ossetia, Ajaria and Abkhazia. The population in those regions had close historical links with Russia, and in 1992, South Ossetia and Abkhazia fought a war to break away from the newly independent Georgia. In July 1993, following international diplomatic efforts, the parties signed a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement. In August of that year, the Security Council established the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) to monitor the ceasefire, but its activities were reduced following the collapse of the ceasefire.

On 8 August 2008, following a period of worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, Russia attacked Georgia’s military in South Ossetia in response to a Georgian military activity in that area. The conflict, which lasted for several days, came to an official end on 15 August, when the two countries signed a ceasefire agreement amid mounting international pressure. Since 2008, Moscow has maintained a military presence in the two areas and has signed a series of bilateral agreements with the de facto authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

To date, disagreements persist between Russia and several European countries and the US regarding the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. While Russia considers these entities independent states, other member states view them as part of Georgia’s sovereign territory. In November 2011, the European Parliament passed a resolution recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied Georgian territories.

The Security Council has discussed the situation in Georgia on several occasions since the closure of UNOMIG in June 2009. On 6 December 2016, and again on 28 March 2017, Council members discussed the issue under “any other business” at the request of then-Council member Ukraine. On both occasions, Ukraine proposed issuing a press statement reiterating support for the territorial integrity of Georgia. However, both attempts were blocked by Russia.

Meetings on Georgia to mark the anniversary of the 2008 war have since become an annual practice within the Council. On 8 August 2019 and 5 August 2020, Council members discussed the situation in Georgia under “any other business”, marking the 11th and 12th anniversaries of the outbreak of conflict in Georgia, respectively. On both occasions, following the meeting, the US and the European Council members held a press stakeout.

In February 2020, the permanent representative of Georgia notified the Council of a large-scale cyberattack launched in October 2019 against the Georgian government and media websites. On 5 March 2020, Council members discussed Georgia in the context of cyber threats and hybrid warfare under “any other business”. The meeting was initiated by Estonia, the UK, and the US. In a joint statement to the media after the meeting, the three members attributed the cyberattacks to Russian military intelligence agencies and said that these actions represented a wider pattern of Russia’s activities. Russia denied these accusations and emphasised that there was no evidence to support these claims.

Tomorrow’s Meeting

At tomorrow’s meeting, Jenča may refer to the UN Country Team’s Annual Results Report for Georgia of 14 April, which observes limited progress during 2020 in addressing Georgia’s protracted conflicts. The report notes that the formation of a new de facto administration in Abkhazia, which sent conciliatory signals to Tbilisi, “raised hopes about the prospect of conflict transformation”. However, it says that “these hopes have not been realized”.

Jenča may also refer to the 17 August 2020 report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on cooperation with Georgia, which covers the period between 14 September 2019 and 2 October 2020 and describes various forms of discrimination faced by ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The report notes a “prevailing climate of impunity” in these areas, which has been exacerbated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the issue of crossing points. According to the 14 April report of the UN Country Team’s annual results, both the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sections of the Administrative Boundary Line were closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which adversely affected the well-being of the conflict-affected population. Recently, however, the de facto Abkhaz authorities re-opened the Enguri crossing to its pre-pandemic status.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members, including European members of the Council and the US, are expected to emphasise their strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. They may also call on Russia to withdraw all its military and security forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Some Council members may also call on the de facto authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to allow unimpeded access to international humanitarian and human rights organisations. In this regard, they may stress the need to release illegally detained persons. During the reporting period of its 17 August 2020 report, OHCHR received numerous reports of arbitrary detention related to “unauthorized illegal crossings” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to the report, Georgia’s government authorities “registered the detention of 86 persons in South Ossetia and 26 persons in Abkhazia [in 2019] …and of 6 persons in South Ossetia and 24 persons in Abkhazia in the first half of 2020”.

Several Council members may also refer to the General Assembly resolution, adopted on 10 June, that recognises the right of return of all displaced persons and refugees to their homes throughout Georgia, including in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (A/75/L.99).

Following tomorrow’s meeting, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US are expected to deliver a joint statement at a press stakeout.