Russia on Monday kiboshed the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG). Throughout the day, UN Security Council members failed to agree upon a two week extension that would have provided time for further negotiations.
So, as a midnight deadline approached, ten Security Council members voted to extend UNOMIG’s mandate, four abstained and a lone raised hand signaled the Russian veto. Accordingly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon instructed “his Special Representative to take all measures required to cease the operations…effective 16 June.”
After 16 years, UNOMIG’s 129 unarmed soldiers and 16 police officers are headed home. Meanwhile, Russia is in complete violation of the Six-Point Ceasefire Agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to end a hot phase in Russia’s war on Georgia last August. In particular, Russia occupies the Georgian territories of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Ahkalgori District and Perevi Village, denying access to the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), which is envisaged by the Six-Point Agreement.
In addition to hobbling the EUMM, Moscow a few weeks ago vetoed continuation of the OSCE Mission that monitored South Ossetia. Poking a burning stick into the eye of UNOMIG completed Moscow’s hat-trick. Its immediate aim is to blind the world to its misdoings in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Now, Moscow can continue its military buildup in the two Georgian territories, perhaps preparing another assault on Georgia. Russians and their local cronies can run criminal enterprises, terrorize remaining residents and seize property unobserved. Moscow can continue its annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, masked by the pretense of recognizing them as independent countries.
“Extension” of the UNOMIG mandate, a Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement explains, “makes no sense because it is predicated on old realities.” Indeed, Moscow imposed new realities on Abkhazia and South Ossetia with tanks. Consequently, for Russia, recognition of their independence is less significant as a practical matter than as a diplomatic one. However, if its diplomats have open ears, Moscow cannot be under the illusion that national capitals think its recognition of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali is anything but ridiculous. Another Russian objective, therefore, is to gain gradual international acceptance—less than agreement but more than acquiescence—of the new realities that it created by force of arms.
This explains the eleventh hour diplomacy in New York. Moscow hoped that other Security Council members so badly wanted UNOMIG renewed that they would drop language that the Russian MFA said was “aimed at confirming the territorial integrity of Georgia and denying the existence of Abkhazia as a state.”
That gambit failed. “Our partners prefer poison to medicine,” harrumphed Russian UN Representative Vitaly Churkin.
The ultimate objective of Moscow’s medicine is to undermine every security organization operating in Europe, thereby convincing at least some western states that it is time to discuss a new European security apparatus. Make no mistake—any new organization acceptable to Moscow will be one that it can manipulate and one that gradually undermines NATO.
But as Churkin pronounced the word nyet on Monday, it was apparent that this time Moscow’s antics produced western unity. Permanent Security Council Members France, the United Kingdom and the United States voted to extend UNOMIG under a resolution that expressed support for Georgian territorial integrity. They were supported by Non-permanent members Austria, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Japan, Mexico and Turkey. Germany, though not currently a Security Council Member, supported UNOMIG as the chair of the UN Group of Friends of Georgia.
German Ambassador Thomas Matussek said, “There was one issue on which we could not compromise and that was the territorial integrity of Georgia within internationally recognized borders.”
US Deputy Representative Rosemary DiCarlo said, “Extending the mandate would have allowed the UN to continue to carry out its role in monitoring the ceasefire, addressing security and humanitarian concerns on the ground, and helping create the conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons.”
Speaking from London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband pointed out that “Russia has turned its back on previous resolutions, one as recent as February, in which it affirmed its commitment to uphold Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
French UN Representative Jean-Maurice Ripert added, “We cannot and will not compromise on the territorial integrity of Georgia.”
The west came together around a principle. Now, France, as a Permanent Security Council Member and broker of the Six-Point Ceasefire Agreement, must seize this momentum. Backed by the EU countries, Paris should insist that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev honor his own signature on that document. US President Barack Obama must demand the same of Medvedev when he visits Moscow in July.
With UNOMIG and the OSCE out of business in Georgia, the right medicine now would be for an enlarged EUMM with police power to fulfill its mandate throughout Georgian territory. Only a Russian nyet blocks the way.
David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington. This column appeared in 24 Saati (24 Hours), Tiblisi’s major newspaper.