EUMM GEORGIA: A Mission in the Caucasus Geopolitical Crossroads

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RUBEN RUIZ, CII petersberg series

4_april_2011_ver_2_1500The geostrategic situation of Georgia rouses the interest of international powers, particularly the European Union (EU), Russia and the United States. However, the EU expects Tbilisi to make steps towards Brussels. Since its independence in 1991, Georgian diplomatic decisions have shown that this South Caucasus nation is committed to the European Union: Georgia-EU relations started in 1992 and were reinforced since the “Rose Revolution” in 2003. Georgia does not belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) anymore, and is part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Eastern Partnership. All these decisions illustrate where the Caucasian republic is looking at. This commitment is reciprocal. After the Five-Day-War in August 2008, the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia is a consistent proof of European engagement with Georgia.

Why this mission?

EUMM Georgia was established on September 15, 2008 and started its activities on October 1, 2008 as an unarmed civilian mission. Over 200 civilian monitors from EU Member States take part in EUMM in order to stabilize the situation after the conflict in August 2008 between Russia and Georgia. As a response to the action of Georgian troops in the northern region of South Ossetia “to restore constitutional order in the entire region” according to the Georgian Ministry of Defence, Russia intervened with troops defending the sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, occupying about 20 % of the whole territory of Georgia. On August 12, 2008 , the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, ordered to stop the operation claiming that it “has achieved its goal, security for peacekeepers and civilians has been restored. The aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses” . On the same day, Medvedev met the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who held that time the presidency of the Council of the EU, in order to reach an agreement at the end of war . Both leaders approved a document based on six points to ensure peace between Georgia and Russia, signed later by the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili. This peace plan provided the following points:

  1. Do not resort to the use of force.
  2. The absolute cessation of all hostilities.
  3. Free access to humanitarian assistance.
  4. The Armed Forces of Georgia must withdraw to their permanent positions.
  5. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation must withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities. Prior to the establishment of international mechanisms the Russian peacekeeping forces will take additional security measures.
  6. An international debate on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security will take place.

 The compliance of this Agreement is the goal of EUMM Georgia monitors. “The Mission’s mandate, covering the whole territory of Georgia, consists of stabilisation, normalisation and confidence building, as well as reporting to the EU in order to inform European policy-making and thus contribute to the future EU engagement in the region” . The authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have so far denied the access of EUMM to the territories under their control although both regions are inside of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia, with the exceptions of Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and three insular territories in the Pacific (Nauru, Vanuatu and Tuvalu), the only states in the world which recognized the “independence” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Preventing a renewal of an armed conflict is one of the main objectives of the mission, as well as making the areas adjacent to the Administrative Boundary Lines (ABL) of Abkhazia and South Ossetia safe and secure so that civilians can cross those lines without fear or obstacles.

After the initial settlement to finish the war, the Agreement on Implementing Measures was adopted on September 8, 2008 by Sarkozy and Medvedev as a complement to the Six-Point Agreement. According to it, Russia will withdraw all its peacekeepers from the five observation posts along the line from Poti to Senaki in seven days since the signature of the Agreement on September 8th. Moreover, Moscow will also withdraw in full its peacekeepers from the zones adjoining South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the positions where they were stationed before the start of hostilities in ten days following the deployment of international mechanisms in these zones, including at least 200 observers from the European Union, no later than October 1, 2008 . These measures also provide the complete return of Georgian armed forces to their home stations by October 1st. Furthermore, both parties agreed that UN international observers in Georgia will continue to carry out their mandate in Abkhazia and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers in South Ossetia. International discussions will start on October 15 in Geneva to examine the ways to ensure security and stability in the region, settling the issue of refugees and displaced persons on the basis of internationally recognised principles.

The European Union had deployed on September 2nd an exploratory mission as a preparation for a possible civilian European Security and Defence Policy mission in Georgia. And indeed, Georgia’s government invited the EU to deploy a monitoring mission in the country on September 11 . The Council of the European Union adopted on September 15 a joint action stating that the Six-Point Agreement of August 12 between Russia and Georgia with the mediation of the presidency of the Council of the EU, and the Agreement on Implementing Measures remain the basis for the stabilisation process. According to the joint action, the mission should begin no later than on October 1st and there will be a close coordination with the United Nations (UN) and the OSCE. With this mission, long-term stability should be established in Georgia and in the surrounding region. In the short-term, the resumption of hostilities should be avoided, in compliance with the Six-Point Agreement and the implementing measures.

In October 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between EUMM and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia to introduce transparency and restrictions on the equipment used and the activities of the Georgian police forces in the adjacent areas. The following MoU, between EUMM and the Georgian Ministry of Defence (January 2009), amended in July 2010, limits the positioning of troops and the heavy equipment of the Georgian armed forces in the areas adjacent to the Administrative Boundary Lines. After one year of mission, the extension of EUMM Georgia has been adopted in the Council Joint Action of July 27, 2009 , in the Council Decisions of August 12, 2010 , September 12, 2011 and, the last time so far, on September 13, 2012 , with validity until September 14, 2013 .

Challenges ahead

Although EUMM Georgia is not yet finished to entirely evaluate the level of success of the mission, we can analyze the development of EUMM and the commitment of the parties so far with the agreements.

The Government of Georgia considers EUMM as a fundamental element to ensure security and stability in the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. European monitors have stabilized the situation after the war, and fear among the population of a resumption of hostilities has been reduced considerably. Although the equipment of EUMM is adequate, the limits of technology (too much time for provision of satellite photos) are an inconvenience. Both Memoranda of Understanding of EUMM with the Georgian Ministries of Defence and Internal Affairs have improved transparency of the activities of the Georgian police and armed forces, contributing to stability and security. Moreover, working contacts between EUMM and Russian security forces take place in both scenarios. However, the situation must improve regarding confidence building. The fifth point of the initial Agreement, which provides the withdrawal of Russian armed forces to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities, has not been implemented yet. On the contrary, after signing the Agreement, Russia violated it by occupying territories such as Akhalgori and Kodori Gorge and, therefore, beyond the pre-war ABL. Russia and the de facto authorities in both separatist regions restrict humanitarian and also human rights monitors access, with the exception of a few visits of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Only supplies through the Roki Tunnel from Russia are allowed to get in South Ossetia. Furthermore, this Tunnel, the Psou River and the Russian military bases whose forces are deployed in Georgia, are not under the mandate of EUMM to be monitored.

Russia, taking advantage of its power in organizations such as the UN or the OSCE, terminated mandates for the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in Abkhazia and also the OSCE mission in South Ossetia, both in 2009, which means a violation of the Agreement on Implementing Measures signed in September 2008, since Russia agreed on allowing OSCE monitors coming back to Tskhinvali and UN observers staying in Abkhazia. That is why we have to stress the importance of this EU mission as the responsible for the security and stability in these conflict areas, although effectiveness of EUMM could improve if Russian authorities would not block the access of EUMM monitors to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia established a military presence in both regions, deploying new weapons systems where they were not before the August 2008 war. All this, in addition to the recognition by Russia of the sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with the following opening of Russian embassies in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi, represents a violation of the Agreement signed by Russia, Georgia and the Presidency of the Council of the EU.

It is important to keep South Ossetia and Abkhazia under security control. South Ossetia is an organized crime hub and, according to some reports, Abkhazia is used as a territory for smuggling nuclear materials from former Soviet countries.

A European mission in a geostrategic area: between East and West

The Caucasus region has a special interest for energy markets. Because of the cold relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Georgia is the only alternative to Russia for pipelines coming from energy rich countries in the Caspian Sea region (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) and, therefore, it receives important economic benefits for being a transit country for those infrastructures, such as South Caucasus Pipeline or Nabucco Pipeline. Russia is aware of the importance of this geostrategic area between both Caspian and Black Sea. That is why the intentions of Moscow with such a disproportionate intervention could have been the control of those strategic pipelines as a result of controlling the country after establishing a pro-Russian president in Tbilisi and ending Georgian sovereignty in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With the Five-Day-War, the Kremlin also sent a message to Kiev to stop Ukrainian ambitions to join NATO, an organization already on the agendas of the governments of Georgia and Ukraine. However, what is behind all these Russian actions is its necessity of recovering the influence of Moscow over the former Soviet sphere, not only because of the feeling of humiliation after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), but especially due to security reasons. Russia feels that it must keep its “near abroad” under control to ensure its security. That is why, every action from the West in the Russian neighbourhood will be understood by the Kremlin as a threat against its national interests.

In spite of that, both Georgia and Russia know they cannot ignore their bilateral relations. After the war, Russian investments in this Caucasian republic reached a record level in 2009. Moreover, Russia is Georgia’s fifth largest trading partner, representing the fifth largest exporter of goods to Georgia and also the ninth destination of Georgian goods. However, as we can observe, trade relations are not enough for Moscow to have influence on its neighbouring country. The Kremlin does not hesitate to use “hard power” instruments if Russia estimates that its national interests could be threatened. The European Union should put pressure on Russia to allow monitors of EUMM Georgia to control also the conflict zones, which would increase security and transparency. Closer relations in terms of security and defence between the EU and Russia and a greater cooperation in the common neighbourhood should make Russian decisions and actions in the Caucasus region more flexible.

Conclusion

Steps have been done in the objectives of the monitoring mission. However, important questions must still be solved. Effectiveness of the EU monitors is not optimal when they cannot operate in the whole Georgian territory, blocked by Russia and the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia should not adopt the “with us or against us” rhetoric in the framework of the conflict, which would not be favourable to the end of the EU mission; and Russia must accomplish the agreements reached in 2008 and allow European monitors to operate all over the Georgian territory.

Georgia, Russia and the authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia must understand that the European Union, through this mission, can only promote a favourable environment to solve the situation, but the solutions and the decisive steps must be done by the different parties involved. Talking permanently to the population, to local communities and authorities to know their concerns and needs is a fundamental way of keeping confidence and improving measures and capabilities. The European Union must show credibility to Georgian citizens in the pathway towards a closer approach of Tbilisi to the EU. Expectations of the Georgian population are high, as EUMM is a key international support in the country. Therefore, EU monitors should never forget they are working in favour of the population. Europe cannot disappoint them. The confidence of Georgia and all Georgians as a fundamental country in the European neighbourhood is at stake.


Rubén Ruiz – CII Collaborator – Researcher and Analyst in European Affairs. After completing studies in translating and interpreting, he continued his studies at the Diplomatic School of Spain with an MA in Diplomacy and International Relations. He then obtained an MA in European Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of Europe (Natolin). He also carried out a year-long internship at the Policy Planning Unit of the Spanish Foreign Ministry. His areas of specialization and interest are the Spanish foreign policy, the European Union and its external relations, EU security and defence policy, EU enlargement and neighbourhood policy, geostrategy and international relations, and international security.
His blog was awarded in 2012 by the Representation of the European Commission in Spain in the category “Europe and its future”.


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