What's In Blue

Posted Fri 12 Aug 2022

Georgia: Meeting under “Any Other Business”

On Monday (15 August), Security Council members will discuss the situation in Georgia under “any other business”. Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US requested the meeting to mark the 14th anniversary of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. A representative of the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) is expected to brief.

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.

On 8 August 2008, following a period of worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, Russia attacked Georgian troops in South Ossetia in response to Georgian military activity in that area. The conflict, which lasted for several days, came to an end on 12 August, when a ceasefire agreement was reached 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, on the one hand, and the US and several European countries, on the other hand, 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 Council 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 become an annual practice in the Council in recent years. On 8 August 2019, 5 August 2020 and 4 August 2021, Council members discussed the situation in Georgia under “any other business”, marking the 11th, 12th and 13th anniversaries of the outbreak of conflict in Georgia, respectively. On all occasions following the meeting, the US and European Council members held a press stakeout.

At Monday’s meeting, the DPPA representative may refer to the 2021 Annual Progress Report of the UN Country Team in Georgia, published on 26 April, which states that “the situation in and around Abkhazia and South Ossetia continues to pose political, military, economic, and security risks, including to regional stability”. The report also notes that while the UN pursued peacebuilding initiatives in Abkhazia, it was unable to do so in South Ossetia since the UN does not have access to the region. Moreover, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have continued to deny access to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In this regard, the DPPA representative may call for immediate and unimpeded UN access to these regions, as requested by Human Rights Council resolution 49/33.

Several Council members—including the US and some European members—are expected to draw parallels between the situation in Georgia and Russia’s war against Ukraine. They may point out that Russia’s actions in Georgia 14 years ago marked the start of what they perceive to be a trend of aggressive behaviour by Russia towards its neighbouring countries. In this regard, they may reaffirm their support for Georgia’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, and condemn Russia’s continued military presence in, and steps toward the annexation of, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Since 2008, there have been several referendum proposals for South Ossetia to join Russia. On 13 May, then-President of the self-declared Republic of South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree to hold such a referendum on 17 July, citing South Ossetia’s “historic aspiration” to join Russia. However, after Bibilov lost his re-election bid to Alan Gagloev in May, Gagloev cancelled the proposed referendum over “uncertainty of the legal consequences of the issue”, according to media reports.

At Monday’s meeting, some Council members may condemn Russia’s activities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including military exercises, arbitrary detentions, kidnappings, closures of border crossings, and movement restrictions at the South Ossetian Administrative boundary line. These members may also reiterate concerns expressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding allegations of human rights violations in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and other districts, targeting ethnic Georgians. They are likely to express support for the investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in and around South Ossetia during the conflict in 2008. On 30 June, the ICC issued arrest warrants for three individuals, including two Russian nationals, accused of committing war crimes in 2008.

Russia is likely to deny accusations of aggressive behaviour towards its neighbouring countries. It has previously argued that cooperation between Russia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a stabilising factor in the South Caucasus. Instead, Russia may suggest that Western countries are to blame for the volatility in the region. At a press stakeout following last year’s meeting on the situation in Georgia (4 August 2021), Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said that the “Georgian military adventures” in 2008, which prompted Russia’s military response, were “directly or indirectly encouraged by some of our Western partners”.

Russia is also expected to argue against any role for the Security Council in addressing the situation in Georgia. It has been suggested that diplomatic talks among Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia should take place under the auspices of the Geneva International Discussions (GID). Established in October 2008, the GID is chaired by the EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the UN. It consists of representatives of the parties to the conflict—Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia—and the US.

Following tomorrow’s meeting, Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US, and incoming Council members Malta and Japan, are expected to deliver a joint statement at the press stakeout.

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