EU foreign ministers will meet today and tomorrow (5 and 6 September) in the French city of Avignon to launch a civilian monitoring mission in Georgia, as decided at the recent extraordinary EU summit. But such a mission’s ability to control the entire territory of Georgia, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia, remains in doubt.
According to diplomatic sources, although the meeting’s agenda includes other issues such as the Middle East peace process, updating the European Security Strategy and the latest crisis in Ukraine (EURACTIV 04/09/08), the “main course” will remain the situation in Georgia and the EU’s involvement there, as decided at the 1 September summit (EURACTIV 02/09/08).
The aim is to send several hundred EU civilian observers to the region as soon as possible and guarantee the withdrawal of Russian troops from “security zones” in Georgia. The mission is expected to operate under the flag of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at first, although it could be transformed into a fully-fledged EU mission over time.
But experts doubt that the EU personnel would be able to move effectively around the conflict areas, as Commission representatives recently recognised. EU personnel currently on the ground have been unable to directly deliver humanitarian aid to displaced persons due to obstructions by the Russian and South Ossetian authorities.
Russia and Georgia, who have broken diplomatic relations with one another, mutually accuse each other of failing to implement the six-point peace plan brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy (EURACTIV 29/08/08). Meeting his Italian colleague Franco Frattini in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Tbilisi of failing to honour its commitment to return to barracks. In return, Georgia circulated a paper entitled ‘Russian invasion of Georgia: Breaches by Russia of the Ceasefire Agreement’. The paper accuses the Russian army of illegally establishing 23 checkpoints on roads deep into Georgian territory.
Ministers are also expected to ensure access to aid, which has yet to reach the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The Council of Europe, the pan-European human rights body, said the Georgian crisis had led to a ”humanitarian disaster”.
Some ministers are also expected to raise the question of which sanctions the EU could impose on Russia in a worst-case scenario, a source told EURACTIV. But several countries, including the French hosts, are reluctant to discuss sanctions for now, the source added.
Another issue would possibly be to establish conditions for an international probe into a crisis where each side blames the other and the tolls of dead, injured and displaced are disputed.