Last week, Moscow afforded us dour folk who concentrate on international security a real laugh-out-loud. On January 19 and again on January 21, the Russian Foreign Ministry demanded an inspection of Georgian military facilities under the Vienna 1999 document of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

(OSCE). The jocularity was short lived, however, as Tbilisi categorically refused the request—as would any government not on psychotropic drugs.

On January 22, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a terse rejection of the Russian demand on the ground of force majeure, in accordance with Vienna 1999. Force majeure is a common legal term that excuses a party to an agreement unable to meet an obligation because of a greater force beyond its control.  “In August 2008,” says the Georgian statement, “the Russian Federation carried out a large scale military aggression against Georgia, which resulted in occupation of inalienable part of the Georgian territory, severe and mass breaches of the human rights and killings of peaceful population residing on the aforesaid territories occupied by the Russian armed forces, as well as ethnic cleansing of indigenous population from those territories.”  After a meeting at the Georgian Foreign Ministry, Per Eklund, European Union representative in Tbilisi, commented, “If occupation is not a force majeure, then I do not know what is.”  The Georgian Foreign Ministry statement continues, “Russian actions directly contradict the basic principles of the OSCE Vienna Document 1999…and the primary aim of the Document—to develop confidence and build security.”

There is considerable irony in a Russian appeal to an OSCE document, even as Moscow vetoes any meaningful life out of an OSCE mission in Georgia. Such incongruity sparks a great laugh-out-loud.  Some may also recall that in 2005, Russia nixed the valuable OSCE Border Monitoring Operation and proceeded to bellyache about problems on its border with Georgia.

Moscow also has a low opinion of OSCE democratization efforts, booting its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights from Russia and barring OSCE election observers from its December 2007 parliamentary and April 2008 presidential elections. Russia’s “sovereign democracy” does not need such scrutiny.  In response to Greek Foreign Minister and new OSCE Chairperson Dora Bakoyannis’ January 15 call for rededication to OSCE principles, Russian OSCE envoy Anvar Azimov said the organization’s “legality” must be rendered more effective. OSCE election monitoring must be more balanced. In other words, the OSCE bureaucracy should be more pliant in the face of Moscow’s bullying and vetoing. As Bakoyannis intoned that “honest, good faith dialog remains our strongest confidence building measure,” Russian tanks trundled around Georgian territory in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Akhalgori District, and Perevi Village.

Moreover, deadpans the Georgian Foreign Ministry statement, “No guarantees and assurances exist that the Russian Federation will not try to carry out further aggressive actions and that the information obtained via the evaluation visit and inspection would not be used to the detriment of the National Security of Georgia.” 

To the contrary—Russia’s ongoing belligerence guarantees that espionage in support of further aggression is its minimum purpose in seeking to inspect Georgian military facilities. 

Moscow also has two wider purposes with regard to OSCE. First, it wants to preclude any effective observation of its military buildup on Georgian territory or of the activities of its unsavory proxy regimes in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. Second, it wants to wrest from the west some measure of de facto or de jure recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.  “By our estimate,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after meeting Bakoyannis in Moscow January 21, “the proposals the Greek side is formulating now go in the right direction and take the de facto and de jure situations that have been created.”

So far, western countries have eluded Lavrov’s diplomatic snare, allowing the mandate of the OSCE Mission in Georgia to expire on January 1. Now, as the mandate of the OSCE military observers in Georgia approaches expiration on February 18, the west must not abandon principle to perpetuate process. 

Unfortunately, Bakoyannis’ remarks in Moscow hint at just that. “You cannot expect a country to change the basic position which they have, but that does not mean we cannot find a solution in getting our missions in, this is something else and this should be possible.”


If the price of a renewed OSCE mandate is creeping toward acceptance of the outcome of Russian aggression or hobbling the vision of the observers, then the west should allow Russia to continue its obstruction.    “Imaginative and flexible solutions,” said Bakoyannis in her January 15 speech, “can only work if there is good will and political courage on all sides.”

If there were good will in Russia and courage in the west, there would be no Russian tanks in Georgia. Be careful Moscow does not get the last laugh!

David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.  This column originally appeared in 24 Saati (24 Hours), Tiblisi’s major newspaper.