Monitors from the UN and the OSCE are leaving Georgia after Russia vetoed an extension of both mandates. This leaves only a tiny EU force and all but formally ends the West’s pretense that South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be reunited with Georgia, much less that Europe will do anything to make that happen.
A Deutsche Welle report notes that the UN mission had been in place since 1993 and quotes Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin as saying it was based on “old realities.”
Reuters has a much lengthier report which gives a strong sense of the bitterness on both sides as well as the peril many Georgians now face.
Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said the draft resolution was unacceptable as it referred to a previous resolution reaffirming Georgia’s territorial integrity, a reference he said was ”political poison” after last year’s Georgia-Russia war. ”Our (UN Security Council) partners knew that we would not accept it because Abkhazia does not figure there as an independent state,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said. ”There is no doubt that the full weight of responsibility for the departure of UN observers and workers from the region… rests with those Western states which for many months now have been demonstrating ideological obstinacy,” it said.
”Russia does not need witnesses to register the results of the ethnic cleansing,” Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told a news conference. ”For Russia, the main target here was to somehow endanger the legal status of the occupied territories, to somehow achieve legitimisation of the Sukhumi and Tskhinvali authorities, and to give some kind of legitimacy to the occupying armed forces of Russia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
Coming at the same time, the news accounts are conflating the two missions. The FT version of the Reuters report sets this off under a separate heading:
Military monitors of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have suffered a similar fate. Negotiations on extending their mandate in South Ossetia were halted after Russia insisted they be separated from the mission in Georgia. They have been denied access to South Ossetia since the war, and must leave Georgia by June 30.
The combination of the above means that the only international force is a 225-member EU force that is “unable to enter either South Ossetia or Abkhazia.” In other words, a sham.
UN mission head Johan Verbeke told Reuters that failure to extend the mission would undermine stability in Abkhazia and leave roughly 60,000 ethnic Georgians there unprotected. Further instability would worsen tensions in Georgia, where masked police on Monday beat dozens of opposition protesters in Tbilisi. The opposition is demanding President Mikheil Saakashvili quit over the war and his record on democracy.
All while the world’s short attention span is diverted to the goings-on in Iran. This is a sad state of affairs but, alas, the one we have. Despite declarations that “we’re all Georgians now,” the fact of the matter has been from the beginning that neither the United States nor Western Europe had any appetite to go toe-to-toe with the Russians over the fate of two disputed provinces. That remained true even once Russian troops moved into “Georgia proper.”
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.