Alexander EGOROV – Independent analyst and researcher
Some time ago, a statement by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared on the organisation’s website, that relic from last century’s cold war that has been coveting “global responsibility” in the 21st century, on issues relating to strengthening the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia with Georgia. Rasmussen felt himself able to condemn the “building of such fences” as allegedly “contrary to the international obligations of Russia and does not contribute to the peaceful settlement of the conflict”. A “peaceful settlement” as far as Rasmussen is concerned must be Russia’s refusal to recognise the “regions of Georgia – South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states”.
The views of American diplomats do not come across as any less dogmatic. Russia must remove the barriers from South Ossetia’s border with Georgia, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mary Harf declared: “We have seen reports on the erection of barriers on the administrative boundary. This borderization is inconsistent with Russia’s international commitments and Georgia’s sovereignty and harms relations between both sides. We would call on the Russian Federation to remove the barriers”.
It is worth pointing out one more time that in accordance with current intergovernmental agreements, the Russian Federation has been delegated certain functions and authority to protect the state boundary of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Georgia. Some sections of the 350-kilometre border between South Ossetia and Georgia are being controlled poorly, and a number of issues in the Gali region of Abkhazia have not been settled. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that measures by South Ossetia to erect border fences are intended to reduce the number of incidents related to innocent border infringements by local residents from both sides and thereby remove the factor causing constant tension in the border zone. Since the fences have started being erected, the number of such incidents has fallen sharply. This has also been confirmed by the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia.
The issue of the territorial demarcation between Georgia and the two Caucasian states recognised by Russia periodically stirs up public opinion in Georgia, especially on the threshold of the country’s presidential elections which are scheduled to take place on 26 October.Information on the border fences in one or another Georgian village is being seized upon by the Georgian media and media in the West, who are accusing Russia of the “creeping annexation of Georgian territories”. French newspaper Le Figaro, without worrying about evidence, is “not ruling out” that should what the West is calling “the creeping annexation” continue, then the 1.6 km Baku-Supsa Pipeline, one of three “western” pipelines, will pass through territory controlled by “separatists who are completely subordinate to Moscow”. A systematic aggravation of the situation is under way.
The biased nature of the coverage of events in the Caucasus is an important factor in the reproduction of Russophobic propaganda clichés.The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as before, is providing constant political and diplomatic assistance to Tbilisi. Furthermore, the current Georgian regime has been promised that units of the Republic’s armed forces will take part in the NATO Response Force in 2015. A statement was made about this on 10 October by the same indefatigable Rasmussen. In turn, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose current position in terms of running the country is not completely clear, continues to declare that Georgia is moving towards Euro-Atlantic integration and will do everything it can to become a full member of the European Union and NATO. For the time being, however, nobody is even thinking about officially inviting Georgia to become a member of the alliance, but this is not stopping those involved from continuing to strengthen ties.
The two centres of Euro-Atlantism – NATO and the European Union, with its urgently resuscitated “Eastern Partnership” – are striving for territorial and political expansion outwards with all their might.With the international legal norms and the status of NATO as a regional military alliance of European and North American countries (Georgia, of course, is not geographically situated in either), it is a poor fit.
Since the mid-1990s, the interest of the US and their NATO allies in the Caucasus has been growing continuously. The current situation surrounding South Ossetia and Abkhazia is a result of America’s adventurist policy, which strenuously pushed the outgoing Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili into attacking Tskhinvali. The damaging consequences of this adventurism have long been apparent, especially for Georgia itself. And it is by no means just the loss of territory. The war in 2008, which coincided with the global economic crisis, turned into a nightmare for Georgia, notes the Ronald Reagan House in Lithuania, for example: It “swept away the much needed foreign direct investment and drastically reduced consumer confidence. In 2009 the Georgian GDP fell by 3.9 percent. Foreign direct investment was replaced by foreign loans. Georgia received USD 1 billion from the United States and USD 4.5 billion was handed out by the Donor Conference in Brussels. This expanded the economy by roughly 4 percent”. But the loans have to be paid back sooner or later and the West is not going to take everything Georgia has, which is why patriotic rhetoric designed to move attention away from a society living in despair to its insidious “Northern neighbour” is being exploited so desperately.
The permanent conflict between Russia and Georgia is beneficial to outside forces. Bearing this in mind, a way out of the political and diplomatic impasse should be found wherever possible, just not within the context of the statements made by Rasmussen or Harf.
At present, there are practical actions by both sides aimed at resolving specific issues, including those related to the regular supply of water to border villages. According to the chair of the commission for the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, Gia Volski, “negotiations are under way, including… with Russia on the intervention of international organisations, at the level of non-governmental organisations and independent experts”. A possible relaxation of the border regime with South Ossetia and Abkhazia is probably attainable, but outside of an equal dialogue with Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, achieving any kind of progress on this or any other issues will be impossible. In addition, the expansion of political contacts between Tbilisi and Moscow is incompatible with the increased military presence of extra-regional forces on Georgian soil…As a consequence, the provocative campaign being organised by certain circles in Tbilisi in connection with strengthening the state border of the Republic of South Ossetia is a cause for regret.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed hope that the special envoys of the European Union and observers from the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia “will keep the authorities in Tbilisi from taking any irresponsible steps in border regions”. The new head of the EU Observation Mission (with an office in Zugdidi on the border of Abkhazia), Toivo Klaar, has set about familiarising himself with the situation in the conflict zone. According to Klaar, the mission is observing the situation “on the occupation line” and monitoring the movement of the local population, and the information gathered will be sent to Brussels in the near future.
The consequences of the monitoring activities of European observers may turn out to be fairly ambiguous. Brussels is not just the “capital” of the European Union but of NATO as well, the Secretary General of which, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, ought to be encouraged to be more correct in his statements regardless. It is possible that he is being pressured by certain member states of the organisation he heads, but this in no way justifies his attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of independent states.