Last year I had to cut short my holiday by a couple of days but this year my fortnight’s holiday will end in time, which means today. A short situation report is in order on the first anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war.
A year has passed since the eruption of the war in Georgia. The crisis heated the frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which belong to Georgia, to boiling point. Fortunately, the war was ended rapidly but, at the same time, the conflicts were deep-frozen. There is no solution of the conflicts on the horizon neither is there consensus about the interpretation of the cease-fire.
A refugee woman in Gori on the road from South Ossetia, August 2008 (Photo: OSCE)
The war in Georgia shattered the European security policy configuration also at a more general level. It created tensions and persistent insecurity. On the other hand, the impacts of the war have been overshadowed by the global economic crisis, which naturally has even more far-reaching consequences.
The Refugee Center in Tbilisi, August 2008 (Photo: OSCE)
For me, the war was a particularly challenging time because of Finland’ OSCE Chairmanship. We worked hard and reached two things. Firstly, the OSCE managed to contribute to the ending of the war. Secondly, the organisation played a major role in monitoring the cease-fire. We managed to get military observers to the field quickly, which helped calm down the situation. The OSCE proved again to be a brisk actor. Of course, I am not in a position to assess our activities, but we received an equal number of praising and disparaging comments from various parties. I consider this a sort of indication of credibility.
What does the situation in Georgia look like now on 080809?
Firstly, domestic turmoil in the country is continuing. Demonstrations that lasted for four months have now subsided but they are expected to resume momentum in the autumn. The opposition requires President Saakashvili’s resignation and early presidential and parliamentary elections. Saakashvili does not agree to the requirements but has promised the opposition that he will carry out constitutional reforms. The opposition is still disunited and the President does not have a clear challenger. Irakli Alasania is the most popular candidate after Saakashvili, with an estimated support of 17 per cent of votes.
Secondly, the security situation in the conflict regions is alarming. This is the case especially after the OSCE and UNOMIG observers had to withdraw from the conflict zone in early summer. The only international operation in Georgia is the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM), which has been established to monitor the cease-fire. It has done good – and essential – work there. Finland has contributed 14 staff to the mission. The problem is that the observers have not been granted access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
At any rate, the peace process that was launched last autumn is in progress. The Geneva discussions are continuing under the UN, OSCE and EU leadership. Even if any major breakthrough is not likely in the near future, Geneva is the only forum that keeps the dialogue between Russia and Georgia alive. The most significant step forward to date is the joint incident prevention and response mechanism, which involves regular meetings at local level to discuss incidents and their prevention. However, there have been stumbling blocks in its implementation.
In the past few days, the possibility of renewed escalation of the crisis has caused concern. Like last year, I have followed disturbing reports about incidents also while on holiday. The optimist would say that the anniversary heightens tension and incidents have therefore become heated. In any case, the situation does not look quite as bad as a year ago. Nevertheless, the EU, for example, has commented the recent events with concern. It is essential to prevent re-escalation of the conflict. As always, a war would produce no winners but only losers of different kinds.
What should the EU then do to preserve stability and help Georgia out of the woods at some phase?
I see that political intervention can take place on three tracks. 1) The cease-fire must be monitored effectively and reinforced by international presence in the entire territory of Georgia. 2) The peace process must be supported and preconditions must be sought for a gradual restoration of confidence and concrete steps forward. 3) The EU must strengthen its overall support for Georgia. This will take place in the framework of the policy of the Eastern Partnership.
And ”last but not least” – Georgia has to be required responsible policy and continued democratic reforms. Here the EU must take assertive action.