Russian Peacemakers in Georgia: To Be or Not To Be?

Eduard Shevardnadze came to grief with ultimatums addressed to Russia. The UN Security Council ordered that Georgia must reach a decision on prolongation of a mandate to Russian peacemakers in the area of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict within 15 days

It’s nice to see that recently Russian-Georgian relations have changed for the better. First Georgian parliamentarians visited Moscow, then followed an informal CIS summit in Kiev where Russian President Vladimir Putin had a twosome conversation with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, etc. These events didn’t remove all roughness in connection with the problem, but the first step is the hardest. Chechen terrorists detained at the Russian-Georgian border are currently in a detention ward in Tbilisi. The court hasn’t yet started consideration of the case on extradition of the terrorists to Russia; first they say that evidence on the case are not sufficient, then some terrorist is allegedly said to be threatening to blow up the court building. Certainly these terrorists are no match to Ahmed Zakayev whose extradition from England to Russia may take several months and even a year. But still, no considerable progress has been achieved yet in connection with their case. 

Another sensitive point in the relations between Russia and Georgia is Russia’s open (non) support of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia. The Georgian leadership disliked the fact that railway communication was recommenced between Sochi and Sukhumi and that Abkhazians got Russian citizenship. Abkhazian refugees blocked the above mentioned  railway and demanded that Georgia’s leadership must call off Russian peacemakers from the area of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict. The president of the poor and corrupt country couldn’t wave them aside, or probably he didn’t want to. Eduard Shevardnadze issued an ultimatum: either the railway or the peacemakers. Georgia immediately reacted: a mail transport plane Il-18 used for air communication with the 106th Russian military base in Batumi was prohibited to cross Georgia’s airspace. The plane was to deliver mail, munition and 70 military men who were on their way back from vacations. About 100 military men planned to have left the base with the return flight.

Consultations between different ministries and departments of both countries that immediately followed the incident, resulted in nothing. The Georgian side still stood its ground and blamed Russia for violation of international agreements.

The visit of Georgian parliamentarians to Moscow with a view to explain Georgia’s position on the problem returned no political dividends to Georgia. This fact was recognized by many people, including Georgia parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, whose harsh statements in Russia’s address differed from what she said in Moscow. She said: “We are actually doomed. Neighbors must speak the language of mutual understanding and cooperation. I on no account mean that Russia is guilty of Georgia’s problems, but Russia must take measures to improve the situation. Georgia is of no priority importance for Russia, but Russia’s every move seriously injures Georgia.”

At the informal CIS summit in Kiev, Vladimir Putin razed claims of the Georgian side to the ground. But Georgia still insisted that Russian peacemakers must leave the conflict area. Position of Tbilisi at that moment was understandable: a session of the UN Security Council was to take place soon, and Georgia hoped that the Council would take a decision not in Russia’s favor. It was rather naive to hope so, especially taking into consideration the fact that Moscow is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and has a right to veto any decision taken there. It is not clear whether with Moscow’s contribution or not, but the Council decided not to tempt providence and to leave the situation as it was. The UN Security Council gave Georgia 15 days to reach a decision on prolongation of the mandate of Russian peacemakers in the zone of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict. But the Council remembers that the Georgia leadership is still reluctant to prolong the mandate, that is why it was decided to consider the problem of the UN mission mandate once again if Georgia fails to reach a decision concerning Russian peacemakers by February 15.

The Russian Foreign Ministry informed: “So, the UN Security Council gave Georgia 15 days for taking, as Moscow hopes, a positive decision on the problem. Otherwise, the problem of the mandate adjustment and even cessation of the UN peacemaking mission can be raised.”

Dmitry Chirkin

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Author`s name Michael Simpson